A generation grew up watching and re-watching Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Now, their fond memories of that musical fantasy—featuring not just Henson’s signature puppets but live actors like Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie—have got them trying to turn their own children on to the movie’s wonders. Some now regard Labyrinth as a goofy, flamboyant novelty suitable for no other audience but children, but that gives short shrift to the considerable craft that went into it. To get a sense of that, we need only take a look at Jim Henson’s Red Book.
Henson kept the Red Book, a kind of diary written one line at a time, until 1988, not long after Labyrinth’s release, and it captures intriguing details of the film’s production. On its site, the Jim Henson Company has supplemented the Red Book’s entries with other materials, such as the making-of clip above, which shows what went into the scene where “Bowie’s character Jareth taunts Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) as she tries to get to her brother Toby (Toby Froud) in an elaborate set inspired by the art of Dutch artist and illustrator M.C. Escher.”
Henson and his team wanted to bring into three dimensions “Escher’s images of seemingly impossible architecture where stairs seemed to lead both up and down at the same time. The inability of the viewer to recognize what is and is not real was a theme the permeated some of Jim’s experimental works in the 1960s and was explored at length in the film.” You can watch the still-convincing final product, in which Bowie sings the song “Within You” while stepping and leaping from one perspective-defying platform or stairway to another, just above. Special credit for pulling all this off goes to the film’s production designer Elliot Scott. But from which member of the team should we demand an explanation for, by far, the most bizarre visual aspect of Labyrinth — David Bowie’s hair?
Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.