Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The "Labyrinth" Post

Once upon a time, in 1994, I watched a "Great Performances" documentary called "The World of Jim Henson" on PBS. And I immediately fell madly in love with several pieces of media that it featured. I had never been a big Muppet fan before, but "Sesame Street" and the "Muppet" movies had been a part of my childhood. The segments about them were fun and nostalgic. However, I wasn't familiar with the later work of Jim Henson in films and television. The documentary's clips of "The Dark Crystal," "Labyrinth," and the "Storyteller" television series were what really caught my attention. I had to see them. I just had to.

So began a years-long quest to track down the various pieces of Henson-related media. "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth" were available on home video, so I was able to find them fairly quickly. "The Storyteller" and "The Jim Henson Hour" were not, and required more work to obtain. I still have my VHS recording of the "World of Jim Henson" documentary, which I taped from a PBS broadcast from 1996, after more than a year of scouring the pre-Internet TV listings every single week to catch it in reruns. I ended up buying "The Storyteller" both on VHS and DVD as the different versions were released in the late '90s and early 2000s. Most of my "Dark Crystal" media, including a theatrical poster and the comic book, came from friends. It was "Labyrinth," however, that really had an affect on me. That was the one piece of media that I think was the most responsible for turning me into an early Internet-age fangirl.

I can trace so much of my early teenage fandom experiences back to "Labyrinth." It was the first fandom I joined a mailing list for, wrote fanfiction for, and even drew some awful fanart for. In the days before Google and Fanfiction.net, I navigated the online fansites and archives via ancient webrings and online directories. There were tons of sites, many of them named after different song lyrics from "As the World Falls Down." I learned to digitize CDs with my copy of the "Labyrinth" soundtrack. I developed a habit of paging through old movie guides and fan magazines from the '80s looking for mentions of "Labyrinth." I tracked down books by Brian Froud, the primary concept artist for "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth." When it went back in print, I eventually bought a copy of Froud's "The Goblins of Labyrinth," containing key pieces of concept artwork.

While I had the usual teenage crush on the Goblin King, I had absolutely no idea who David Bowie was until much, much later. And it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that after Bowie's passing earlier this year, his work in "Labyrinth" turned out to be the major point of reference for Millennials when discussing him. Though the film was a financial bust in 1986, it has quietly become a classic over the years with a huge cult following. It's certainly juvenile, occasionally wildly outdated, and I can offer up no defense for the "Chilly Down" or "Dance Magic Dance" segments. However, I've long maintained that there's a dearth of good media aimed at teenage girls, and "Labyrinth" is brimming over with fantastic, romantic, and surreal elements that make it absolutely irresistible to certain young women with overactive imaginations.

All these years later, I can't quite say what it was that drew me to "Labyrinth," personally. The brief clips in "The World of Jim Henson" documentary were definitely the origin of it, and I found myself watching them more than I watched the actual full-length movie. That's not to say that I don't still enjoy the movie - it's definitely still one of my nostalgic favorites along with "Return to Oz," "The Princess Bride" and "Edward Scissorhands." However, Bowie's performance never quite lived up to those quick, initial glimpses of the Goblin King. And while I'm very fond of the film's low tech puppet characters, it's the optical effects and the art direction that still leave me breathless. The finale in the M.C. Escher set is so wildly ambitious, the kind of thing that nobody does anymore, even though CGI would make it so much easier to achieve today.

And I find I do hold it a little closer to my heart as I've grown older and more cynical about Hollywood. There's been talk of rebooting or making some kind of sequel or prequel to "Labyrinth" for ages, but it wouldn't be the same. So many of the key creative talents responsible for the film are gone, along with the creative culture that supported them. Could anyone get away with making something so genially weird and unabashedly fantastic today?


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