The Thin White Duke Stumbles: Watching Bowie as the Goblin King

labyrinth[image credit: Jim Henson Productions, Lucasfilm]

When I first saw Labyrinth back when it was released in 1986, I saw it in a nearly empty theater in southern California. I went mostly because of David Bowie, whose acting in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) and The Hunger (1983) led me to expect “Jareth, the Goblin King” to be another of Bowie’s uniquely disturbing but artfully portrayed characters. Unfortunately, Labyrinth was not only a movie directed by Jim Henson, of Muppets fame, but also the Bowie he cast as the main protagonist wasn’t the one who gave us Heroes, Low and Station to Station, but rather the one who left us perplexed with Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down—80s Bowie! Needless to say, as I sat in that theater alone, I struggled at reconciling my image of Bowie, which was drawn from years of innovative music and film, with the two-dimensional character before me, who was little more menacing than Count Chocula. Still, even though none of the songs are memorable—which is nothing short of shocking for a Bowie project—there’s something memorable about the images, be it the Labyrinth itself, the Shaft of Hands, or Hoggle and Ludo. Also, Jennifer Connelly as “Sarah” was the kind of girl that appeals to people who yearn for escape and the dream of adventure through stories about goblins, faeries, giants and princesses. Apparently, the latter describes me, even as I watched it again twenty-eight years later.

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