‘Labyrinth’ and David Bowie by Amy Hubbard

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As a huge David Bowie fan I was eager to discover what Bowie gems could be found within the Bill Douglas collection and this beautiful Labyrinth pressbook is one of the first items that I have come across. After a visit to the fantastic and hugely successful “David Bowie Is” exhibition at the London V&A Museum this summer, I have become particularly interested in Bowie’s natural ability to master and transgress all elements of popular culture, be it the visual, the aural or the written word. Bowie’s performance as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) is just one example of this and yet it is an extremely important one for the generations of Bowie fans that it has produced. With its captivatingly beautiful sets of the superb world created by Jim Henson and Brian Froud, Labyrinth was marketed as “a spell binding journey through a maze of magic, suspense and fantasy,” its key marketing strategy, however, being the presence of “superstar David Bowie.”

Unlike many musicians’ misjudged attempts at taking on Hollywood, Bowie is a natural for the simple fact that he is designed to be looked at. His self-awareness is arguably what makes him so fascinating to watch on screen. Bowie has always been an actor and through his performance as Jareth we see hints of the many famously donned and then tragically dismissed personas belonging to his back catalogue: “Ziggy Stardust” sits with Jareth on the throne of the Goblin Castle, “the Thin White Duke” dances elegantly with Sarah at a masquerade ball and “Major Tom” looks lost and lonely in the depths of the M. C. Escher inspired maze within the Goblin Castle. The role of Jareth seems to be an amalgamation of the world of Bowie, perhaps even a beginner’s guide to Bowie and that is why, particularly for a younger audience, this performance was so important. Whilst the world of the Labyrinth is all Henson’s, the film itself belongs completely to Bowie.

I know I’m not the only young adult in my twenties who was first introduced to Bowie through Labyrinth as a child and it’s certainly a performance that imprints itself permanently on the imagination. Presented as a cross between a leather jacket wearing James Dean and Cinderella’s elegant frilled shirt wearing Prince Charming, Jareth seems to be a former “Disney” character gone bad. Having rebelled against ‘the system’ he has found himself the leader of a group of goblins who themselves are the grotesque and rejected doppelgangers of Henson’s charming “Muppets”. With a cane that doubles as a microphone and outrageous hair and make-up, he is a somewhat androgynous and debauched rock star. And what could possibly be more attractive than a debauched rock star?
It is this, however, which is perhaps the fundamental problem of the film and its publicity campaign. Bowie’s roles and personas have always been about rebelling – about breaking boundaries and ignoring categories – and Jareth is no different. Couple this with a vigilant and arguably conservative 1980s film industry, particularly concerning children’s films which must send the ‘right message’, and you end up with an odd tension surrounding the film’s publicity and its marketed audience. This is evident in the Labyrinth pressbook. Designed to advise exhibitors on the advertising of the film, it contains a mix of merchandise available including a Jareth jigsaw, a family Labyrinth activity book, a sticker book and a children’s mobile. Competitions in which fans can participate are suggested, such as a Jareth and Toby “join the dots” and a “spot the difference” competition. The target audience is undeniably children, but the combination of this with the film’s refreshingly progressive and quite grown-up message, as embodied in Bowie, creates a relationship ultimately based on tensions.

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I think, however, it is this tension and sense of rebellion inherent in the character of Jareth which, as a child, I found to be most attractive about the film. Whilst admittedly as a seven year old the film terrified me (I would hide behind the sofa when the goblins were on screen), I would watch it over and over again and I now realise that this was because I liked Bowie. I liked Bowie a lot. I liked the dangerous and yet compelling sense of rebellion that he emanates and the sense of individuality and transgression of rigid categories that lies inherent in his very being. I liked that this film was different, being a slightly distorted, slightly topsy-turvy world in comparison to the worlds of the children’s films I typically watched. And, of course, that which goes without saying: I loved the music –especially ‘Magic Dance’.

Ultimately I think the film does send the right message – it’s about family and responsibility. It’s also, however, about adolescence, hormones and finding your own personal, individual identity in a judgemental, austere and highly complex world. For this reason, for a generation of children, Jareth is a hero.

The London Film Festival by Olivia Luder and Jessica O’ Kane

Bill Douglas Cinema Museum volunteers, Olivia Luder and Jessica O’Kane recently put together a mini-display case on the BFI London Film Festival. Here they describe the process of putting the case together.

Olivia explains the process of selecting items for the display…

The BFI London Film Festival was first conceived in 1953. After witnessing the success of other European film festivals, a group of British film critics decided it was time for London to produce one of its own. Based at the National Film Theatre (now the lovely BFI Southbank), the first event was sponsored by The Sunday Times and aimed to be a ‘festival of festivals’, featuring the best of internationally-regarded film. Now in its 57th year, it continues to deliver a strong British and international programme, drawing in critics, industry professionals and audiences from around the world.

The central object of our mini display is the programme for the inaugural festival in 1957, only recently acquired by the BillDouglasCinemaMuseum by our principal donor Peter Jewell. The striking red cover displays eight stills from films featured in the festival.

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There are only 15 films listed inside the programme and on the separate programme list. Titled as “An International Programme”, all are by international filmmakers. Though the selection may seem small, it has proven to be extremely well chosen with several still being known as cinema classics today, including The Nights of Cabiria, The Seventh Seal and Throne of Blood. We have included two artefacts from films featured in 1957: a Throne of Blood promotional poster and the screenplay of The Seventh Seal. Both films are challenging pieces of world cinema that helped open up the work of Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman to British audiences, as the festival continues to do for other international filmmakers.

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In choosing our remaining objects, we sought to represent the scope and personality of the festival across the years. From the flashy, pink-purple plastic cover of the 5th Festival programme in 1961 (3), to a bold Union Jack on the 1965 programme (5), the festival has captured the zeitgeist across the decades. Interestingly, the two most recent programmes in 2012 and 2013 are far less stylised, displaying their contents as a magazine would. This change may be explained by the increased size of the festival (from 15 films in 1957 to 235 feature films today) requiring programmes to be designed for functionality, rather than as objects of impressive design.

Alongside the programmes, we have also included the awards programme from 1998 LFF and the ticket for the ceremony. These items helped give a sense of the festival as an event, rather than a disconnected series of film screenings. Though previously awarded in a ceremony alongside the Closing Gala, a standalone ceremony was launched in 2009.

Jess explains the process of putting the display together…

When thinking about arranging the BFI exhibit, Olivia and I focused on presenting a range of materials that were colourful and dynamic. Thankfully these were fairly easy to find, since the majority of the items were from the late 50s and early 60s and carried a typically bold design. In particular, our centrepiece item – a programme from the first ever BFI festival in 1956 – was printed in an eye-catching red with futuristic typeface.

Once our central item was in place, we started to design the case around it. We collected items of different heights and shapes, from a small screening ticket, to pull-outs, to a triangular shaped awards programme. We were limited by the size of the case itself, which made overcrowding a problem. Because of this, we ended up using just one or two items to match our areas of research.

When it came to presenting our information, we wanted to convey it in a straightforward way, with an eye to matching the exhibits. For example, our research on the beginnings of the London Film Festival was placed next to our centrepiece, the first ever programme.