If you didn’t see Labyrinth, starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie before the age of five, you missed a thing.
If you were a girl in the 1980s and you didn’t see it, you missed your chance for the best female inspiration in cinema, the most imagination-awakening piece of joyful abandon, and the most…David Bowie in tights.
I did see it though. It was raining, and one of our teachers had a grainy VHS copy of it from who-knows-where, and it was lunchtime and we sat in the school hall and stared at it, silently, in awe and wonder. We were five, so figuring out the riddles was impossible. I was an only child, so I had no conception of ‘having a brother’, step- or otherwise. The puppets were familiar, because Muppets, yet scary, because Jim Henson. And the setting was otherly and glorious and the end of another world.
In my head, it mixes with Knightmare, and Charn (from The Magician’s Nephew) and Cities of Gold, and other things I came to precociously young and enthusiastic.
And then there’s David Bowie, infinitely responsible, it seems, for my unerring adoration of blond, tall, slender men, preferably curiously-clad and able to sing strange and fantastic songs in curious, low tones.
The songs are brilliant, the puppets are incredible, the sets are amazing, everything is perfect. It’s a perfect film.
Watching it back, I wonder how few great heroines we’ve had in cinema since. Certainly, for the age group Labyrinth might have been aimed at. Indeed, was it aimed? Who was it aimed at? Did they worry about that kind of thing then? Labyrinth was an epic flop on its release, yet there aren’t many things I love more in the world of cinema, nor that I’ve watched so consistently, and with such glee.
It made me so, so happy when Jennifer Connelly grew up to be such a successful actress, and to marry a man so attractive and talented as Paul Bettany. She’s never stopped being a woman I admire and hope to, in some way, emulate, and it’s a testament to the strong and wise character she played that she still means so much to a generation of women.
Sarah remains a brilliant character. She makes the best of what she’s got: she takes responsibility for what she’s done, uses her brain and the context to do everything she can to move forwards at every opportunity. She figures out riddles, listens and learns, wants to see the best, isn’t discouraged by the appearance of failure, wants to see the best in people, is loyal and kind and good, and basically always wins, even when it looks like she’s failing.
This film is the gift I’d want to give any girl under twelve; it’s the part of my childhood that I’d defend to the utmost because it’s so strong and inspirational and beautiful. It’s the bit of the eighties I treasure more than anything, and it looked like something I thought I would grow up to see so much more of. Strong female character unashamedly doing her best in the most trying of circumstances. Sensibly dressed, in flat shoes, no superpowers, just loyalty and endeavour. Maybe one day something else will measure up. I look forward to that day.
(This post sparked by the conversation: if they *had* to remake Labyrinth right now: who would be David Bowie? And we thought, Patrick Wolf, for he is the only person who could pull this off. And then we thought, if they *had* to remake this like that, with Patrick, wouldn’t that at least be a bit wonderful?!)