Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982) and LABYRINTH (1986)
You’ve seen them – everyone’s seen them. But have you seen them with adult eyes, no longer hiding behind the sofa (in the case of The Dark Crystal and, erm, me)? They’ll remind you of the babe you were, and of how they’ve indelibly shaped the imaginative, slightly weird adult you’ve become under the influence of vulnerable, brave, clever lead characters Jen and Sarah. You’ll also see anew Henson’s masterful blend of live action, puppetry and SFX, working closely with Brian Froud’s creaturely art. Given that he produced the 96 episodes each of the Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock, making and voicing puppets for them as well, it’s amazing that he found time to co-direct features (with Frank Oz, aka the voice of Miss Piggy). And both of them are top-notch: The Dark Crystal is probably the only children’s film to feature Beckett expert Billie Whitelaw in its voice cast – that’s how dark it is. And Labyrinth is of course the perfect way to introduce the next generation to the (dance) magic (dance) that is David Bowie.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, you must watch 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, Henson’s first feature as director and the second movie outing for Henson’s beloved puppets. Deeply silly skewer of the international crime thriller genre, with Diana Rigg as the imperious Lady Holiday and cameos from John Cleese, Peter Falk and Peter Ustinov: it’s what the Muppets do best, under Henson’s big-screen control for the first and only time. If you’ve seen that too, go for the Henson-directed episodes of The Storyteller, his most magical television outings.
The Hidden Gem: The Cube, Henson’s pre-Muppets film for NBC Experiments in Television. It’s a way ahead of its 1969 production date, somewhere between The Truman Show, Vincenzo Natali’s Cube and Kate McKinnon & Kumail Nanjiani’s parody of Room for the Independent Spirit Awards. It’s on YouTube. What are you waiting for?
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Alice Lowe talking Jim Henson, will be released on May 31.