If We Can Sparkle He May Land Tonight

david-bowie-blackstar

In the late 1980s I became obsessed with a movie called Labyrinth starring a man named David Bowie.  My parents appeared to recognize him as some kind of celebrity, but to me, at the time, he was only Jareth, The Goblin King.  Labyrinth was one of a number of 1980s films that augmented my nascent love of fantasy and cemented it as a foundational part of who I am.  It was only later that I realized that I had been watching a rock legend dance around in a movie aimed at children.

Last night, I played Starman for my son, who is three years old.  We danced to it in front of my laptop.  I had recently downloaded David Bowie’s newest album, an eerie, atonal, masterpiece of symphonic jazz.  Like so many other people, I had no idea he was even sick.

My wife woke me up this morning to tell me he had died.  The irony was not lost.

I was a Bowie fan long before I even knew I was a Bowie fan.  When it came to music and art, he was always a central figure for me, looming in the background like a quiet alien.  First as Jareth, then as a musician, and later as a symbol of what it means to be an artist.

We all thought he was immortal.  Yes, he lives on through his music, but, appropriately, there’s something more to be said about that.

Listening to him on satellite radio this morning, it occurred to me that Bowie has been broadcast into outer space by radio and now satellite for over four decades.  His voice has been traveling through space at the speed of light (or the speed of life?) since at least 1969, when Space Oddity was released as a single.  That means that Space Oddity has traveled approximately 47 lightyears into outer space.

The nearest star to our sun is Proxima Centauri, which is approximately 4.24 lightyears away.  The first transmission of Space Oddity has traveled over ten times that distance.  What does that mean?

David Bowie is literally a starman.

1980s Fantasy Movies That Influenced A Young Me

342613Gather around children, and let Old Nuncle Jim tell you a tale.  Selfie sticks down.  Turn your phones on vibrate.  Pass me my beer and turn that Queen album back up.  Ahem.  That’s better.

There was a time, long before iPhones, long before the Internet, prior even to the advent of the DVD and stadium seating in movie theaters, when fantasy movies were not the big budget blockbusters they are today.  Before Peter Jackson was ordained from on high to grace us with a (relatively) faithful, three-film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, fantasy as a genre in Hollywood was pretty dead.  The 1990s in particular was a drought of fantasy so extreme that people did crazy things, like listen to Limp Bizkit and dance the Macarena (Wikipedia those if you have questions).  There weren’t even any good B movies; the fantasy movie-going public were left with pitiful dregs the likes of Dragonheart, Kull the Conqueror, and Encino Man.  (Just kidding about that last one.  Encino Man is a documentary about Pauly Shore.)

But let’s go back a decade, to a more magical time: the 1980s.  Yes, that one, the one you know from theme parties and Taylor Swift’s new album.  The one with music made by people older than your parents.  This was Nuncle Jim’s early childhood, a time of Transformers and Capri Sun and Ronald Reagan.  People still smoked cigarettes indoors, back then, and there were payphones.  There were actually quite a few fantasy movies made during the ’80s.  It was a good time for fantasy, in the sense that at least it was getting made.  This was probably due both to legitimate popularity (a lot of modern classic fantasy novels were written or begun in the 1980s), and the fact that Hollywood still made movies that weren’t expected to make $1 billion internationally.  Like I said, it was a different time.

And in addition to all the wonderful books Nuncle Jim read, there were lots of wonderful (and not so wonderful) movies that he watched that influenced the geeky course of his life going forward.  And if he’s being honest, he probably owes just as much to these pulpy, low-budget films as he does to the books he’s read.  So here’s a list of the ones that stand out in Nuncle Jim’s memory.

I will now end this belabored narrative device and switch to the first person, so as to list the influential movies in question, which are listed with a short explanation in no particular order.

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