Within You

Within You (film).
Within You (soundtrack).

Labyrinth‘s climactic song is a brief piece of psychotic recitative with an unstable time signature (it’s shifting between 3/4, 4/4 and 6/4, though much of the first half is in free time); it lacks a melody and its refrain, if there is one, is a wailing three-line expiration. Who knows what Jim Henson made of “Within You” when he heard it, but he gamely built a sequence around it.

The scene: Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) finally reaches the heart of the Labyrinth, where she discovers an M.C. Escher-inspired three-dimensional set of stairwells. Sarah, like many bright teenagers in the Eighties, has Escher’s Relativity poster on her wall—it’s another clue that the entire Labyrinth world has been assembled out of her mind. Bowie confronts her—only now he’s apparently a hologram able to walk on walls—and she defeats his stratagem by choosing to sacrifice herself (or her potential adulthood) to save her brother.

But the histrionic “Within You” doesn’t really work here. The problem (as commenter Pinstripe Hourglass noted on “As the World Falls Down”) is that Labyrinth has consistently retreated into pretending it’s only a girl’s adventure story whenever it’s encountered signs of adolescent turmoil, so that Sarah and Jareth’s connection is based on a single scene, the ballroom hallucination sequence. Having Jareth act like a catastrophically devastated lover here seems off base. You could argue that he’s offering a variant of the alluring sexual fantasy of the “World Falls Down” scene, with Sarah here shown the operatic emotions of an imagined adulthood, the potential to be heartbroken so much that you can’t breathe. That said, Sarah spends most the sequence running up and down stairs to fetch her brother, as if she’s playing the last level of Dragon’s Lair.

“Within You” begins an octave-spanning bass-synth motif that Bowie’s opening phrases parallel, then there’s a quartet of higher-pitched, more desperate lines (e.g., “your EYES can be so CRUEL”, with Bowie peaking on a high G for each line) that lead to a collapse: the quasi-refrain that expires with the four-bar “I—I can’t live within you.” The portentous vocal and the chimes-of-doom synthesizers suggest that Bowie’s slightly mocking the high dramatics of his Berlin records—it’s like “Warszawa” reworked by a heartsick Goth.

Even by that standard, the arrangement is overkill, with four keyboardists (Brian Gascoigne , David Lawson, Robbie Buchanan and Simon Lloyd) apparently in a contest to see who could go most over the top—maybe Arif Mardin was offering a prize at the end of the session. The laurel should’ve gone to whoever did the synth arpeggios.

Recorded: ca. July-September 1985, London. On the Labyrinth OST.

Top: Simon Knott, “Moscow, 1985.”

22 Responses to Within You

  1. Diamond Duke says:

    Well, I don’t know. I mean, in terms of arrangement, yeah, it does feel perhaps a tad excessive. But in terms of the time period, I think all the added gloss is just par for the course. In the context of the film, I think it definitely works. I actually love the moody, emotionally unbalanced, neurotic quality the piece has. (And I could say the exact same thing about a lot of my other favorites works within the Bowie canon. It’s a quality of his that otherwise tends to be rather scarce in the ’80s.) After As The World Falls Down, it’s my second favorite piece from the soundtrack.

    • Quiet Wyatt says:

      Ditto. This one doesn’t hold up musically quite as well — it is more than a tad dramatic with all those portentious keyboards and clanging bells — but I think its lyrics are superior to those of As The World Falls Down. The two songs are my clear favorites from Labyrinth but their positions swap according to how angst-y I feel at the time.

      The Labyrinth song that instantly hooked me, though, was “Underground,” even though I’m not sure now that it’s of such high caliber. I can’t wait to see what col1234 has to say about the video, with its compressed Bowie history-in-a-blur montage as Bowie descends the spiral staircase. I ruined at least one VHS tape watching that sequence in slo-mo!

  2. MWM says:

    Huh. For the first time, I completely disagree with you about a song. Not about the musical content, but about what it means and what it’s saying in the context of the movie (which I actually watched the other night, entirely because of your posts on the soundtrack).

    It’s not adulthood she’s sacrificing; it’s childhood, childish things. I mean, she confronts the all-powerful ruler of her fantasy dreamworld and says, “You have no power over me,” much like the moment when she realizes all her prized possessions aren’t so important (“It’s all junk!”).

    Their connection isn’t really about romance here, it’s about the relationship between a person and their fantasies. His whole point in this sequence is that he is her creation and behaves the way she wants; the price is that he “rules” her, in the sense that she remains childish, short-sighted, living in a world that isn’t there (and therefore miserable). Hence “within you,” no?

    Anyway, I saw this completely differently from how you did, unless I’m reading the post wrong. But I love the work you’re doing to pieces!

    • col1234 says:

      that’s a really great reading. well said.

      • Pinstripe Hourglass says:

        I think you’re BOTH right, and that’s one of the film’s biggest problems – Jareth seems to represent different things at different times. The creatures in the kingdom he rules over are all drawn from a young girl’s fantasies, but Jareth himself is an adolescent girl’s fantasy. So does the Labyrinth represent the terror of a child descending into an adult world, or a child’s nightmares and escapism? When Sarah rejects Jareth, what is she rejecting?
        In my opinion Labyrinth is such a confused film that you have to really stretch to find a consistent message in it (there are consistent THEMES, but themes alone do not make a message). That said, my take on the final confrontation with Jareth is that she’s not REJECTING adulthood, as such, but asserting her own independence as she enters it. Sexuality is a terrifying and confusing thing for a child, perhaps more so for a girl who has to make terms with a world that treats her as a sexual object (it’s worth pointing out, I think, that around Sarah’s age self confidence in girls drops dramatically). And consider Jareth’s offer to her – “Just fear me, love me, do as I say – and I will be your slave.” It’s a cruel bargain – slavery in exchange for slavery. So when Sarah says “You have no power over me”, I don’t see it as her rejecting adolescence, but asserting her independence over it. Sarah will enter the world of adulthood and sexuality but only on her own terms, not on anyone else’s.

    • prankster36 says:

      I actually think the film’s supposedly confused themes, and the ambiguity of what everything (particularly Jareth) represents, are part of the point–“retreating into a girl’s adventure story whenever adolescent turmoil rears its head” could very well be intentional, yes? And indeed, having, say, her baby brother function as a straightforward metaphor for childhood lost would probably feel a little heavy-handed, whereas having Sarah’s attempts to save him represent the responsibility of adulthood at the same time gives it all, I think, more depth. Rather than a straightforward allegory, the characters end up being charged with meanings that shift as the story progresses.

      Ultimately I think the movie is about more than just a journey to adulthood–it’s about the way our adult selves inevitably retain some of the children we were, and how we sort through and try to pick which parts are worth keeping. Petulance, possessiveness and irresponsibility are things to be shed, but a basic childhood sense of wonder and romance should be retained; in that sense, I don’t think it’s a “compromise” to have her imaginary friends all show up again at the end, but merely an acknowledgement that no one ever completely puts away childhood things, at least, no one interesting. Too, I’d argue that Jareth going from romantic, seductive figure who heralds adolescence to being something that has to be outgrown himself is thematically consistent–adolescent ideas of love are part of childhood as well.

      OK, having a number of man-children involved in this movie, from Henson to Lucas to Terry Jones to Brian Froud to, arguably, Bowie himself, might skew the equation somewhat towards the “fuck adulthood” side of the scale, but I think the movie is making a consistent argument, whether you agree with it or not.

  3. Maj says:

    Damn, I’m gonna have to watch this film again to make up my own mind. πŸ™‚
    I actually remember this scene…isn’t “can’t live within you” something like “I’m your creation but your real life is clearly more importatnt to you, I’m losing.” sort of thing?
    But if you read the few lyrics this “song” has on their own, it does, most of all, look like an unrequited love poem…

    As for the song, I find it interesting, it’s almost as if it came from an 80’s production of Phantom of the Opera or something. I have no idea what I’m talking about here, I’ve never seen any adaptation of POTO. πŸ™‚
    I don’t think Within You is that bad. By this point we’re deep in 80’s Bowie and I think I got used to the different standard and context of his work. Also I like me some drama in music. The record is OTT but I don’t even mind. Also 10 keyboardists are still better than one bad guitar solo, to my ears at least.
    Not sure the song works as a stand-alone-song but as a part of a musical it’s pretty good.

  4. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    As far as the song itself goes – s’alright. I mean it’s totally histrionic, bordering on camp, but so is the scene and I think it works in the context of the film – they may only have the ballroom scene to go off of but the chemistry is pretty apparent. Anyway, it’s silly and over dramatic, but it’s nice to hear Bowie being silly again after the mess that was Tonight. And the lyrics are nice – “I move the world for no one.”
    That said, the soundtrack version is totally superfluous and I don’t see any reason to listen to it (unless you’re studying synths and drum machines, or something).

    • Pinstripe Hourglass says:

      Oh, uh, also: Incredibly flattered that you saw fit to mention my comment, col. Thank you!

  5. Quiet Wyatt says:

    I was sufficiently stricken with this song as a high schooler that I wrote an analysis of its lyrics for my Creative Writing class. What I remember most, and what still strikes me as clever today, is the lyrics’ literal inversion of the classic goth/lovestruck sentiment, “I can’t live without you.” Bowie’s Jareth has the opposite problem: his continued existence depends upon Sarah’s continued embracing of his fantasy world. This is the moment where Jareth realizes that Sarah holds power over him, not the other way around, just moments before she does. Well-played, Dame.

  6. Quiet Wyatt says:

    It’s worth noting that among those multiple keyboardists is Brian Gascoigne, who has been a mainstay of Scott Walker’s ensemble since 1983’s “Climate of Hunter.” The future Bowie would cover Scott’s “Nite Flights” on “Black Tie White Noise,” and worry about Scott’s “Tilt” possibly stealing thunder from “1. Outside” according to Eno’s Diary With Swollen Appendices.

  7. Brendan O'Lear says:

    As someone who could have recited price codes – GG or HH? – and catalog numbers on 70s Bowie records, it’s a fascinating experience to read this stuff and not have the faintest idea what anybody’s talking about.
    I’m not sure if it reflects more on me than Bowie’s work of this period, but when I click on most of these links it takes a great effort for me to stay with the song past the minute mark. I never make it to two minutes.

    • diamond dog says:

      I’m afraid I cannot take seriously dissecting the material on labyrinth for me apart from underground its just really bad and cringe inducing stuff. I would say the material is worse than tonight , for me he was totally lost and lacked any musical direction. I cannot take any of the material seriously as it is so very very bad. Its a good write up but the material does not deserve your scribblings.

      • Sigmata Martyr says:

        Fair enough.
        I think delving into this era does deserve the same examination as the previous posts.It may well be very, very bad, but this portion of Bowie’s career is so often glossed over and ignored, somebody needs to give it a proper dissection. Can’t keep raking and re-raking the diamonds, the rhinestones need a fair chance, sequins too.

      • Brendan O'Lear says:

        In many ways I completely agree. My first reaction to seeing these entries is usually something like a deflated “How many more of these are there?” And I can’t bring myself to listen to the songs as I know they are going to be truly awful. However, I think it’s really interesting to read some of the comments and find out that these songs have been important to some people. It seems unbelievable to me, but it is genuinely interesting.
        (And it makes me very glad that I was born when I was and that I was lucky enough to get into Bowie through Top of the Pops, Station to Station and Low, and not any of this.)

      • Quiet Wyatt says:

        The Labyrinth music does deserve writing about, and good writing too, no matter how lame you find it compared to the rest of his catalog… because it was a gateway for some of us, as Sigmata Martyr and Brendan O’Lear mention. However dilute, the Bowie magic was still present enough to hook me in and entice me to listen to what I had missed, born in 1971 but not musically aware until 1983.

        I will not damn Labyrinth with faint praise; it was my First Bowie Album, and I still treasure it as such, even while cringing today at its weakness. Consider this: apart from delving into the back catalogue, which I did immediately, my Second realtime Bowie Album was Never Let Me Down. And I’m still a fan!

      • David L says:

        I do think there was a clear musical direction here, and that was to service a musical film for (mainly) children. And in that respect, I think the Labyrinth tracks are quite good. Taken out of that context, they don’t stand up quite as well, especially when viewed within the further context of his entire career.

        That said, I’d take a couple of the Labyrinth tracks over the entirety of NLMD. At least, that’s the way I think now, before Chris has dissected that album and made me re-appraise it. πŸ˜‰

    • Carl H says:

      Some people never grow out of their 80’s-phobia.

      Poor you.

  8. MC says:

    Actually, I remember this track being the one song that really struck me in the theatre; it had a certain dramatic impact the other songs were lacking (bolstered, of course, by its context in the film). Listening to it again now, it sounds horribly dated but it’s still a bolder statement than all of the other songs. (Not as catchy as Magic Dance, though.)

  9. Frankie says:

    As The World Falls Down is a lovely spell of a song, reminiscent of Orleans’ Dance With Me. But this song is quite gloomy. It reminds me of Cygnet Committee, with a Mephistopheles/Luciferian character coming to grips with the fact that his sway no longer gets admittance At least it’s an honest portrayal of it.

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