Watched some parts of L just now and came to the conclusion that the songs detract from the stated goal of a children’s didactic fantasy film. More specifically, David Bowie detracts from the stated goal of a children’s didactic fantasy film. As a rock superstar, he required superstar-sized billing in the film, skewing the film away from the simpler morality tale of Sarah learning altruism through rescuing her brother from the clutches of Immature Childish Fantasy.
Bowie’s superstar-sized role accorded his character (and his balls) more dramatic weight in the film. Furthermore, all his songs for the soundtrack were basically pop songs about love and/or sex, as most pop songs are about on one level or another. Since Bowie spent most of his superstar-sized roles showing his balls and singing about love and/or sex, Jareth stopped being so much about the Temptations of Immature Fantasy. Instead, he began meaning Ambiguous Sexuality and Romance.
This makes the morality tale messier, to say the least. If the film-makers wanted a less messy morality tale of Sarah Grows Up Into Responsibility, I think they would have been more effective at this more limited goal by replacing David Bowie, rock idol and sex symbol, with a Muppet without songs or balls or pants.
Also, they could have stopped developing sympathy for the devil with the gratuitous use of reaction shots. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. David Bowie plays Jareth as one of the least gleefully evil and one of the most weary and bored villains ever. We see him rolling his eyes and checking the clock out of boredom in Magic Dance, the scene of which appears to be Jareth’s attempt at entertaining himself.
In As The World Falls Down, we get useless closeups of his face as Sarah wrenches from his grasp, and we have the chance to inspect his expression: equal parts surprised and disappointed.
Then, in Within You, after he stops singing, the camera focuses on him several times; he stops actively trying to intimidate or distract Sarah. Instead, he just looks sad, exhausted and sick of the whole game. He keeps glancing groundward with something like regret, which is not a standard villainous emotion.
Finally, after he grovels before Sarah during their big showdown, offering her reciprocal slavery, and she boots him, he goes into slow motion for a moment, and he just looks so damn depressed.
At key points in the film, the film-makers choose to focus on David Bowie, who gives Jareth a series of "Oh shit!" reactions that make him seem less like an evil villain and more like a fallible guy who’s sad and sick of playing a part. If we’re supposed to agitate for this dude’s defeat, we shouldn’t have these humanizing reaction shots. We need our evil less complex and easier to banish.
P.S. Jesus Christ, that make-up does not do David Bowie any favors. He looks so haggard throughout L.
P.P.S. How does David Bowie manage to be both hammy and kind of emotionally nuanced when playing Jareth?