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Getting into The Labyrinth with David Bowie

Updated on January 23, 2016
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David Bowie inspired countless people with his work, music and personality. Just like the rest of the world I was devastated when I heard the news of his death. As he embarks on his next adventure we have more reason than ever to dust off our video players and sit down in front of the 1986 classic, Labyrinth.

As a child I was drawn into Bowie’s mystical character Jared and became lost in his goblin kingdom. It’s not until I’ve looked back at the film as an adult that I’ve truly appreciated the creative craftsmanship required for the puppets and I think as a massive fan it’s important to know how they (and the film in general) came to life.

In 1997 Winchester-born Brian Froud published an illustration book. Previously Froud had worked on other titles including Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Nights Dream but this was his chance to truly showcase his own fantasy paintings. The book (still available to buy - http://www.amazon.com/The-Land-Froud-Brian/dp/0553010557) gained the curiosity of puppeteer and director Jim Henson.

Jim Henson soon contacted Froud to propose collaboration and the pair began work on their first film together The Dark Crystal (1982). Henson directed alongside Frank Oz and Froud became the conceptual designer in this fantasy masterpiece. The award winning animatronic creatures gave a dark edge to this family film. From the success of this the pair wanted to create something more uplifting and so began the plans for Labyrinth.

Originally Jareth was going to be puppet like the majority of the cast until it was decided that he should be played by a muscian. Mick Jagger, Sting and Michael Jackson were all considered for the role before Bowie was selected. "I wanted to put two characters of flesh and bone in the middle of all these artificial creatures," Henson explained, "and David Bowie embodies a certain maturity, with his sexuality, his disturbing aspect, all sorts of things that characterize the adult world." Now it makes no sense to have anyone but him.

As for the puppets themselves they were created in Jim Hensons creature shop - http://creatureshop.com where all his creations come to life. In an interview with The Creators Project Fraud talks about how time consuming it can be to build one of these characters but despite that refers to them with such simplicity. We were really working at the forefront, I think, we were pushing what was possible as far as radio controlled puppetry. We used to call them “super puppets” because that’s what they are, really. But at the end of the day, a puppet is just a stick and some gaff [gaffer’s] tape” However in an incredible collaboration between machine and man these combinations of material became the faces of some much loved personalities. You can even see the puppet of Hoggle in a lost baggage collection apparently as he was lost in transit – poor Hoggle. (http://mentalfloss.com/article/23436/10-weirdest-pieces-unclaimed-luggage).

Despite The Labyrinth being a cinematic flop it’s combination of great art, characters and David Bowie bulge has made it a classic favorite for many of us for ever more.

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      Jerome 22 months ago

      A well researched article. Nice to learn all these little facts I didn't know before. Long Live Bowie.