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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Labyrinth (1986)

My two strongest, Labyrinth related memories are my friend Evan nearly tackling me as I walked into a New Years party while he energetically screamed "YOU REMIND ME OF THE BABE" into my face over and over until I came out of my shock enough to say, "...what babe?" and showing my friend Katie the movie and halfway through one of the crystal ball tricks, her turning to me and saying, "Is that why it's called Dark Crystal?"

I came to Labyrinth late. I feel like most of my elder millennial friends watched it as children but I didn't see it until high school-ish. I didn't really appreciate it until college. Now I'm just floored by the art and the mastery of craft. Like, I'm sitting here a little flummoxed and overwhelmed because it's a monument to creativity. And thinking about making something that measures up (Ben kindly reminded me it doesn't need to - but to me it does) - oof.

Maybe it's because I came to it late but I never found Sarah relatable. (Sir Didymus is my speed. Tenacious, loyal, maybe a little misguided sometimes, committed.) But as an adult woman, examining the journey that Sarah goes on, I'm blown away. She's a teenager with a mantra of "it isn't fair!" and all she wants is freedom and agency, even though we're shown from the beginning that she doesn't really know what to do with it. Jareth gives her what she wants, and the movie is her coming to grips with the fact that 1) what we want isn't always good - and she comes to that one quickly but 2) sometimes what we really want is to know what we want. She wants to be grown up, in a fashion, because she thinks that's freedom. But ultimately, it's responsibility, and her life is richer for relying on and being reliable for others. AND THEN THE KICKER is that it's still okay (and necessary!) to lean into our "childish" passions. The "should you need us" ending never landed harder than it did tonight. I was "mature for my age" my entire childhood. And as an adult, after (and maybe as a result of?) various tragedies, I've leaned into the "childish" things that delight me. That bring me joy. I'm still coming to grips with liking what I like because I like it. This project has been really helpful with that. Labyrinth really brought it home.

I found myself thinking a lot, during this viewing, about what this movie would be like if it were made today. I didn't even think about the effects but the character building. I could only assume that it would get bloated with giving all of the many characters backstories and exposition-y introductions and all the things that slow down modern movies. Instead, we are gifted with characters that are fully realized. Full stop. Jim Henson, who is a hell of a director, knows who the characters are, as do their performers. And that's all that's needed. We don't need to know why Ludo was in his predicament or how long Sir Didymus has been guarding the bridge, their characters speak for themselves. It's a masterclass in showing, not telling.

Take this little worm! He gets a minute (maybe?) on screen, is totally unnecessary to the plot, but I'm invested in him. I get who he is. And he doesn't slow the movie down. I love him so.

The craft of this movie astounds me. And it fills me with longing. The Henson creative team has always screamed "collaborative heaven" to me and if I had a time machine, I'd beg my way onto that team. The sense of play and experimentation fills every frame. Every little disparate scene (the downward hand tunnel!) still works with the whole. The design is cohesive but expressive while still being far reaching and varied. I never really appreciated before this how individual each goblin is. Totally different features and personality. But they're all goblins. I can feel the electricity of those early production meetings as I watch and I'm hungry for it. My favorite collaborators are the ones who push and stretch me and say "what if we tried...?" and Jim Henson seems like the absolute king of that type of creativity.

I haven't even touched on David Bowie yet. The music is genius. His performance is nuanced madness and it's magic. When I used to perform, Bowie was someone I turned to for inspiration because everything about me, when I'm performing, screams "OH DEAR GOD I DO NOT TRUST MYSELF TO DO ANY OF THIS RIGHT" but Bowie is the polar opposite. Even writing this, I'm only just realizing that it's not courage, it's trust. (The music video for "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" is my favorite.) He looks so at home dancing amongst the goblins or threatening Hoggle or turning into an owl. No one else could do this role. I don't say that lightly. I've never really enjoyed the "As the World Falls Down" dream sequence but tonight I was mesmerized. The art direction, costuming, styling, everything about that scene is perfection. The use of muddied colors in the background dancers. The uber soft textures and dreamy silhouettes of everything but the masks which are sinister beyond belief. And Bowie still commands the scene.

Watercolor, gouache, acrylic, wood, glass, paper.


-If I thought I struggled taking pictures of my art before, woof. This was a new adventure. And then Wix doesn't support mp4 files which... *sigh*

-My first idea had been to do something with a mirror with Ludo and Didymus and "should you need us" but I just wasn't stoked about it. It was fine. Then, the next morning I saw some Disneyana on facebook - a layered cel presentation - and it made me think of a neat children's book I rescued from the trash when I worked at a used bookstore. It was called "The Enchanted Forest" by Trina Shart Hyman (that name though) and it had no words, just layers of cardstock that telescoped out to create a forest scene with depth. I now know these are called "tunnel books." And that's what I decided to make.

-Watercolor is something I've always wanted to get better at. And I have, very incrementally, over time. But patience is a virtue I don't have a lot of the time and adding details to watercolor, really building the depth of a watercolor piece, generally exasperates me and I say "good enough" and walk away kind of hating my piece. This one, I committed to detail. I worked more with gouache than ever before and while I'm not wild about it, I do love how it adds depth to watercolor and makes adding details easier.

-I was keenly aware of my habit of doing characters I love really well and then characters I have opinions about... not so well. Sorry Hoggle. I fixed him a bit but he was a bit of a monster when I first painted him.

-There was so much more I wanted to do with this one. Texture, a book cover, glitter! But ultimately I'm glad for the time restraints I (mostly) hold myself to. This is a piece I could work on forever, and may revisit, but I was getting tuckered out. With endless time on it, I honestly might just have abandoned it.

I hope you're inspired to sit down and watch Labyrinth if you haven't in a while or if you never have before! It's so beautiful and weird. Just how I want the world to be. Next week: Pete's Dragon (the original)!


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