Hedwig & Jareth Forever

Throughout my film studies and 28 years watching films, good and bad, Labyrinth has remained one of my favorite films just as Bowie is one of my favorite musicians. This class has introduced me to a new and equally fascinating love, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the musical performances of Hedwig herself. Both films are endlessly dynamic and star two very creative players in modern pop culture, for reasons similar and apart. The characters themselves also play equally dynamic roles, both with deep emotional issues, intentionally and symbolically. Although the films are in no way tied, for me, they represent meaningful aspects of emotional growth and represent elements of nontraditional cultures often overlooked or ignored by mainstream culture.

Labyrinth is a film created by a swarm of amazing and creative talent. Jim Henson thought up the film following his work on the Dark Crystal . Along with writer Dennis Lee (writer of the Fragle Rock theme), they drafted up a rough storyline and pitched the idea to George Lucas and Terry Jones. Terry Jones had been a writer and actor for Monty Python, and already had a very sucessful career prior to the film. Adding David Bowie to the equation only further motivated its unavoidable success (Scarlett). Over the course of the making of the film, the story line changed as each player in its creation wanted their say on different elements. Although the film was intended for children, the various opinions greatly shifted the film from its original intentions, creating a movie for people of all ages. Jim Henson, childern’s writer, puppeteer and creative genius, was the brain behind numerous children´s shows like The Fraggles, The Muppet Show and Sesame Street to name a few (IMDB). When he worked on the Dark Crystal (there is sadly a sequel coming out), he entered into a whole new world; A twisted, spooky, fantastical place for adults and children alike. It’s obvious by the characters and theme that his Dark Crystal experience left him wanting more, but was it his history with children´s material that limited his abilities to give the film true depth? Without Terry Jones and David Bowie, the film may have been without any depth at all.

Bowie had his own idea of who Jareth was, describing in the documentary that Jareth is, “a big kid”, who is “fed up” and “would rather be down in Soho” (Scarlett). Henson is traditionally a happy ending kind of guy, and admits in the documentary that he wanted the film to be about life and leave people with an up feeling. He saw Jareth as an all-powerful magic character that Sarah would somehow overcome, and also someone who only existed in her mind. Both Jones and Bowie wanted to give Jareth and the labyrinth a little more depth and complexity, both having far richer and more psychological explanations for Jareths position. Bowie’s Jareth was not only a confused man with inner battles, but also a man who was not fully in control of his world. He suggests in the documentary that against his will, the goblins steal yet another baby. Implying that not only does Jareth exist beyond Saras’ world, but is also at the mercy of the rules of the labyrinth. Each goblin in the labyrinth, to me, was always someones missing little brother or sister, especially since Jareth says in the film that Toby will turn into a goblin if Sara fails. Jones describes the result of Jareth’s odd existence as leaving him “a hollow man… [who] was using the labyrinth to protect himself to keep people away. He was trying to control the world but he was really empty in himself”(Scarlett). To Jones the film was about Jareth being representative of people who intend to manipulate the world without any real emotional investment, people who expect to get what they want while giving nothing in return. Like Bowie says “a big kid”, overall I think both statements imply he just has some growing up to do.

When I first saw this film I was nine and it was new. It became obvious to me upon watching it, that my family had never seen the film, and probably didn´t even know who David Bowie was. They never would have let me if they had. I immediately became obsessed with the film, its characters and of course, Jareth. Telling everyone that I was going to grow up and be the Goblin Queen, or in the least Mrs. David Bowie. I didn´t understand what it was that I loved about him at the time, but I knew I was in no way sympathetic with Sara and was greatly disappointed in her refusal to become the Goblin Queen. Although Sara does not end up with Jareth (a twisted intro to relationship doesn´t help), the entire film is loaded with bulges, gyrations, spandex, love triangles and comeons, but more than all that, a young girl turning into a woman. The wikipedia entry on the film states that the film may be seen as “a symbolic tale of a young girl´s acceptance of her sexuality”. Aside from the obvious intentions of Jared, Sara does indeed have some growing up to do in the sexuality department. Sara is basically a big girl living in a little girl’s world at the beginning of the film. She idolizes her mother, who abandoned the family for an acting career. She puts on lipstick while looking at a photo of her, who just happens to be standing next to, who else, David Bowie (This subtle element in the film greatly confuses the reality vs reality struggle in the film). The idolizing of her mother’s sexuality and dressing like a princess can be seen as hints that she wants to transition into womanhood, but so many other elements, and maybe the lack of her mother itself, imply that she is afraid to step out of childhood fantasy (Allen). She enters the labyrinth and uses the same lipstick as a tool to mark where she has been. When she discovers that where she has been is not as it seems, her metaphorical identity crashes down and she throws the lipstick aside. According to Jones intentions for the film “eventually the girl learned there was no answer, no solution. The only thing you could do was to go with it and enjoy it. When she did that she got to the centre of the labyrinth”(Scarlett). This intention can be said of a girls sexual development as well, she couldn´t force herself to be a woman, she just had to let it happen.

Jareth’s role as an antagonist/protagonist clad in spandex and chasing after a young girl, made it an especially interesting “coming of age” story. I think that unknown things about Jarreth’s past, as Bowie and Jones saw him, intended him to be at the same emotional age as Sara in many ways. To Bowie, Jones and countless fans, Jareth was himself brought into the world of goblins against his will. Hes poor socialization with humans caused him to behave certain ways, similar to a child who’s never played with a puppy and picks it up by its ears. He is not hateful or evil, you can see that in the song “Magic Dance” when he makes Toby laugh and when he looks sad and heartbroken at Saras rejection. He is an unhappy, lonely man with great power and access to unlimited knowledge, and he simply wants someone to share it with. Ultimately Sara gets to learn lessons, yet not the ones Jarreth intended for her. Jarreth in return gets disappointment, pain, rejection and possible the loss of his entire world. Had he learned any social skills, he may have learned that bribery, authentic or not, doesn´t go over well most the time. At the end of the film Jareth says, “Do as I say and I will be your slave”, encompassing in one statement his confusion on “how it works”. Even if he only wanted to be considered a friend, he doesn´t even have basic skills like fairness, consideration for others, sharing or anything else most people are taught before they´re 3, and it’s not his fault.

Still on the subject of sexuality, and very much in the realm of confusion, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a great place to start. Hedwig was written by a man who himself had similar toils in life as the protagonist, both appropriately, John Cameron Mitchell. The story was originally written as a stage musical premiering in 1998 and quickly rising to popularity. Soon after, it was touring the world, donning a dedicated cult following, Styrofoam wigs and all. The theme and meaning of the film has different meanings for many people, and this is’nt due to the same pre-production disagreements that Labyrinth experienced. Because of the nature, plot and characters of the film, Mitchell reports hearing fans regard the film as anything from “a new and improved Rocky Horror Picture Show” to “moving and comforting”. The range of emotions persuading people’s opinions is to be expected from a story so modern, dynamic and intimate.

The persuader of our emotions is Hedwig, and the complicated story of his (to her) life. The film skillfully uses music and flashbacks in conjuncture to tell the story while we watch Hedwig’s emotional reaction in the form of singing. We learn early in the film of Hedwig’s background full of emotional and physical trauma. Even in all of Hedwigs strength and go-toitiveness, for the majority of the film she is hurt and hiding behind a fun attitude and a consistent humor about her own traumatic past. She is not without confidence and knows what she needs to do to deal with “what she has to work with”. Not only referring to her angry inch, but the lot in life that she was handed and a scarred emotional past. Throughout the film we see her sexual identity take on many forms, and although it’s clear he is gay (as it were), his orientation has little to nothing to do with the film itself. The writer himself is a gay man, and states that upon coming out of the closet he found he didn´t fit into “gay culture,” as identified by many gay people. He found that it was just as confining and rule stricken as straight culture was, finding that bisexual people, although perceived by many as “not able to make up their minds” may have somewhat of an advantage (Fuchs).. He portrays this idea of an orientation-less lifestyle in the film consistently. Early in the film, Hedwig (then Hansel) is proposed to by an American military man, Luther, at the condition of losing his genitalia. Hedwig was never portrayed as having the desire to do this unprovoked, but for the sake of love and the adventure of escaping his Aryan gummy bear world, he saw little reason not to. Not long after the complicated and sacrificial escape, he finds himself dumped and having lost his gender pointlessly. The Berlin wall falls at the same time his heart breaks. This is where the personal identity crisis begins. He was loved by Luther, unconditionally he thought, woman or man or neither. Now that he’s alone, having sacrificed so much (for such a small player in the film) should he be a woman or a man? He just as easily could have been a man again, but instead pulls down another “wig in a box”. This isn´t necessarily a conscious decision to be a woman over a man, since gender never really meant much to Hedwig in the first place, but it is a decision on how he chooses to deal with the pain and go on with her life. This is also a moment for Hedwig to reinvent herself as no one knows her (and finally drop the Hansel). After all, being known means being close and being close has only hurt. Mitchell explains this film wide topic much simpler: “She [begins thinking] of herself as neither man nor woman, or half a man, but she realizes that she´s both, by accident. And it´s better than being one. The way she got there is very painful.”

Mitchell chose communist Berlin as Hedwig’s home base for more than one reason, though not intentionally for metaphors. He was inspired by the documentary I Am My Own Woman (1992) about a man who lived as a woman through the Nazis and the Communists. “The story of the ultimate outsider” Mitchell states (Fuchs). Mitchell was also the son of a commander in the U.S. sector of Berlin. He had several times visited him, often hanging out in local gay bars. His experiences there and personal experiences as a gay man were a catalyst in creating the moving story of Hedwigs life. If only Jareth had received such intensive background and character development his sexuality may have taken on a similar direction. David Bowie is notoriously androgynous and has at times renounced the purpose of “picking sides” in orientation. Mithel explains a direct inspiration for the rock-androgyny theme from performers like Bowie saying “androgyny is traditional in rock…. From Little Richard through the British androgynous, Mick and Elton and Bowie”. Bowie cant help but show this in Jarreth, though only so much as big names like Lucas and Henson would be associated with harmlessly (to their family values career). It would be interesting to see Labyrinth directed by a person like Mitchell. Anyone who cared so much about a character as to have to play them himself in order to get it right. If Labyrinth had been an on stage musical first, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (The Rocky Horror Show) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, would it too have had a cult following? Maybe its not too late.

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