Friday, September 23, 2016

Jennifer Seeks the Goblin King

I rarely discuss recent films in this venue, but quite frankly (despite some of the discussion I've seen about banning films after 1960 from TCM) 30 years ago is not all that recent.  So I'm going to look at Labyrinth (1986), which had a Fathom Events celebration for its 30th Anniversary.  I will confess right now, I'd not seen the film before, and am not really familiar with David Bowie (The Goblin King).  My husband, however, assured me I would enjoy it, and indeed I did.

The plot is straight out of Joseph Campbell, involving a hero's (in this case, heroine's) quest, which is also a journey to maturity.  Sarah, a teen with a vivid imagination, spends her days imaging a fantasy world in which she confronts The Goblin King.  It's her real world that to her mind is a horror. She has to deal with her stepmother (Shelley Thompson) and a new baby brother, Toby (Toby Froud), who seemingly never stops crying (it doesn't help that Sarah is either yelling at him or ignoring him).  In anger, she curses little Toby: may he taken away by The Goblin King, an action she quickly repents her actions.  But it is too late - the Goblin King appears,  informing her that she has 16 hours to traverse the labyrinth that surrounds The Goblin King's castle, or Toby will be turned into a goblin forever.
I love the Muppets, but was unsure how I would react to these very un-Muppet characters.   However, as he does with the Muppets, director Jim Henson gives us a cadre of characters that we can relate to, even if they aren't "real".  They work within the concept of the epic nature of the story and provide an accessibility for both adults and children.  The other plus is the interaction of both Ms. Connelly and Mr. Bowie with the puppets.  They make you believe that these other characters are real.

We are all familiar with Ms. Connelly's work as an adult - especially her Academy Award winning performance in A Beautiful Mind (2002).  Her talent is already evident here: both in her ease with the puppet characters, as well as her scenes with Mr. Bowie.  She's 15 years old, to his 38.  But both are able to create a chemistry that is ageless (and also not icky).  Especially in the dream scene where they dance together, the pair are fascinating to watch. 
Mr. Bowie's death earlier this year makes it impossible to not stop to say a few more words about his performance.  Again, I was not really familiar with him, either as an actor or singer - certainly, I'd heard of him, could identify a photo of him, and knew that much of his film work had been favorably received.  But I'd not seen any of it, and thought the hype about him might be just that.  I was wrong.  He is remarkable here, giving The Goblin King a sexiness and appeal that are undeniable.  He needs to be scary and attractive at the same time, and he does that very successfully.  I'm hoping now to locate a few more of his films.  In the meantime, I'm going to recommend this New York Times article that appeared shortly after his death.

As is often the case with Fathom Events, there was a preliminary film that discussed the history of Labyrinth.  Included was a section on the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA, which is now the home of the puppets from this movie.  The Henson Family, who had kept the puppets after Jim Henson's untimely death in 1990, donated the puppets to the Center, where they are being restored and displayed for the film's anniversary.  It was sad to learn that, in order to preserve them, the puppets are no longer usable as performance tools, but nice to know that they will have a home where generations can view them in the context of the film.

I'm going to close with this trailer from Labyrinth.  I heartily recommend the film for the next time you want a bit of fantasy in your life.

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