Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The 80s Fantasy Movie Trinity of Labyrinth, Legend and Last Unicorn

I once wrote and presented a paper on Sex And Subversion in 80s Fantasy Movies*, mostly as an excuse to talk dirty about 80s Fantasy Movies, and discovered that there actually is this whole adult underlayer to some of my favorite fantasy movies--the ones that shaped and defined my brain as a kid, and that I find still super-watchable now.

Basically, if you want to understand me, you've got to have watched these movies**, and preferably have done so when you were young and impressionable so they could sink into your brain like weird glittery life experiences.


I don't remember the first time I saw Labyrinth clearly; I remember being afraid, but also being super-fascinated, and I'm pretty sure I made my mom restart it the same day and watched it all the way through--a sort of kiddy version of mind blown

You've got your puppets that are equal parts scary and awesome, the hallmark of the Froud-Henson partnership***. You've got your moral ambiguities that you aren't likely to find in kids' movies these days. You've got your big sister who isn't that great a sister having to deal with the consequences of being a selfish git and losing a baby--which is terrifying, as a big sister, to watch. You've got your incredibly catchy songs and wildly quotable dialog. You've got your super-lush and inventive fantasy locales that aren't like any before or after.

And, of course, you've got your David Bowie and his codpiece.

(Tangent: I've been reading one of the gazillion Bowie bios, and I'm relating so hard with his early frustrations that I think him doing a cult classic childrens film right when I was the exact age to be influenced by it was kismet. I was meant to have Bowie in my brain, and I was a fan before I even knew he was also a pop star with twenty years of music already behind him at that point.)

The movie is a great look at a hero's journey through the lens of whatever crazy imagination seems to  have permeated the 80s, and it was one that featured a female main character who saves herself and doesn't fall for the male's wooing--which, basically, I didn't even really consciously realize was wooing until much later. I found out, while researching that paper, that there was, in an early draft, a scene after the garbage village, where Sarah falls into Jaireth's bed. Like, literally into his bed, while he's there looking fetching and trying to sway her. 

Which goes to prove that I wasn't bonkers when I started noticing the layering in the plot--the kid's adventure story lays over a story of coming of age and claiming yourself for yourself, of sexytimes hinted at and denied, and of friends that may or may not be part of her personal mental breakdown but are beloved all the same.


It was also super-early in my life when I saw this one. I don't even remember seeing it the first time, but I know for a fact that when I saw it again on TBS when I was 11, I knew every character and every scene, despite having not seen it in years--probably since that first time.

This one is not really as subtle in the seduction metaphors and also features a female lead who saves herself, but she does it for love--which both charmed the crap out of me and contributed to my long-lasting romanticist heart, but also sort of makes me think about how I can tell stories now where the girl doesn't need a dude around to break the spell.

This one also features the first time when something explicitly evil was shown to me as attractive and charming--and started me on a long history of loving Tim Curry, even before I knew about the wild lunacy of Rocky Horror.

But it's the imagery that gets me in Legend. Unicorns that are obviously just horses with horns glued to their heads, but shot in a way where they actually look like they could be magestic and magical as the movie says they are. That dark dancer coming out of the shadows and taking over Lily's purity, merging with her****, and turning her into the bride the Prince wants. The Gump and his fairies and the diversity of them--and how one is a wild bitch, one is a drunk, and he's about nine, but scary and charming at once. The goblins turning everything into a Narnia-like winter. The swamp-hag Meg. Jack, the feral boy who is way cleaner and sweeter than any feral boy has a right to be, brought in and civilized by the beauty of the princess who would rather go tromping through the woods than act all princess-ly. 

So many juicy images to chew on and think about and uncover the meaning of as I grew up a writer!

Last Unicorn:

For a long time, I thought this movie was some beautiful dream I'd had. I didn't know anyone else who had seen it, and I couldn't find it anywhere. Then it was on TV a few times through my late childhood, and then I bought a copy on DVD right when DVDs were first a thing, and somewhere in there, when I was working my first job as a bookseller at the Friends of the Library Bookstore, I found a copy of the source book for 10c and discovered the wonderful joy of reading a Peter S Beagle book.*****

This story features the seduction themes the least, and more abstractly--she's being seduced, sort of, by Haggard, but she's also being seduced by time and mortality and being human, and falling in love is sort of the worst thing that could happen to her because it ties her to the time and place of the man she loves the way nothing else could have, when she was immortal. Which is so sad

And as I grew older and learned my genre, I discovered that there's actually a whole lot of play with the form of fantasy here, something that Beagle likes to do--there's a prince on a quest to win a princess's hand, but the princess doesn't get it and the quest isn't that satisfying to him. There's a beautiful princess under a curse, but the curse is being human and she wants out. There's an evil king who happens to be the father of the prince, but he's evil because he grew up unloved and isolated, rather than just being evil. There's a magician who is really bad at his art, but also has a direct tap to the real power in the world--the kind that's a primal force of nature, and that he can't control, but that most people can barely even know is there. And there's a whole section that's a sideways take on the Robin Hood story.

Together, these three movies are a fantastic base for an understanding of how stories should be told and how they're constructed--and with that as a conclusion, maybe I should have put this post on my writing blog, but really I'm talking about some of my oldest fandoms, so it stays here. 

What were your earliest fan experiences and what did you get from them? Share in the comments!

*At ICFA, which I desperately need to start presenting papers at again.
**Plus Princess Bride, Dark Crystal, Flight of Dragons, basically all of Disney, Ghost Busters, the Rocky Horror TV cut, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Short Circuit, Batteries Not Included, Cocoon, DARYL, The Boy Who Could Fly, Last Starfighter, Enemy Mine, Flight of the Navigator, Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink. Yes, I consider all of them 80s Fantasy Movies. These dudes will probably crop up on this blog at some point or other in their own posts.
***I really wish they'd done more movies, actually.
****I actually added two matching colors to my nail polish shop based on this theme--Lily Light and Lily Dark.
*****I also picked up A Fine And Private Place which is equally as beautiful despite being of a much more practical tone. It's what The Graveyard Book reminded me of. Neil Gaiman, I think, must have been influenced by some of the same things as me, because Mirrormask, written by him, also sorts into this category, somewhere between Labyrinth and Legend.
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