Saturday, February 4, 2012

The videos of Michael Jackson: Ghosts

Michael Jackson made some of the most iconic, visually fascinating music videos of all time. Some of them were more like short films, especially given the level of talent he worked with. For this and every Saturday in February, we'll look at some of his videos as if they were movies and discuss them accordingly.

Whether intentionally or not, "Ghosts" is surprisingly metatextual. Michael Jackson must have known how very different his life was from the rest of the world, but in this video, he seems to embrace his quirks even as he questions them. By portraying both the strange, mysterious outsider on the fringe of society and the straight-laced, conservative leader of the mob that tries to run him out of town, it's as if he's trying to reconcile dual aspects of his nature: the fun-loving free spirit who lives by his own rules versus the normal guy who just wants to fit into a normal life. We'll never know if this was something he really struggled with, but it's hard not to read such messages into this video.

Make-up whiz Stan Winston directed this video, based on a story idea by Jackson and Stephen King. If you recall, at the very beginning of "Thriller," there's a disclaimer by Jackson stating that the video doesn't endorse demonic beliefs. No such statement appears in "Ghosts," which ramps up the level of demonic and supernatural imagery to eleven - but then, "Thriller" was made during a time when parents were all upset about hidden Satanic messages in rock records. And the make-up work in "Ghosts" is remarkable. In addition to the mob leader, whom I didn't even recognize as Jackson until he starts dancing, there are all sorts of Gothic ghost dancers and Jackson himself, who gets twisted and contorted and reshaped different ways, in different guises. (Scariest moment for me? Near the end, seeing that plastic-surgery-altered face literally crumble.)

As in "Bad," there's a group of people trying to conform Jackson into a certain ideal, but he can only be had on his own terms, and one has to wonder, given how his childhood career was molded by his father, is this him acting out a revenge fantasy on some level? He wants to be free to indulge his idiosyncrasies - he makes a point of saying how he enjoys scaring people - but there's always an adult authority figure who wants to control him. And in this case, that authority figure is him.

But the children are the ones who understand the best, and given how Jackson spent the final years of his life defending himself from charges of pedophilia, one can't help but notice this as well. He always had that Peter Pan aspect to him, an image he consciously cultivated, whether to make up for his lost childhood or something else, we'll never know.

"Ghosts" the song isn't that great, I thought, and both song and video do feel derivative of older material - and did it really need to go on for almost 40 minutes? Still, it's so worth watching just to examine the many layers of subtext on display.


  1. Dante Beze! Almost forgot good ol Mos was in this.

    Not to mention that the dance team is full of all star choreographes. It seriously does on too long though. Three songs?!? 4 dance sequences??!!? Who is Michael trying to impress here? Or was it Winston and his editor's fault?

  2. It's like he took everything that made "Thriller" great and cranked it up to the point of excess. It's not bad, but it is familiar territory.

  3. There's no wonder he's the king of Pop. MJ's videos are always so memorable and thrilling to watch, he definitely pulled all the stops in making 'em.

  4. It's a bit surprising that, given how good his videos are, he didn't pursue a film acting career any harder than he did.

  5. Y'know, I appreciate MJ more for that reason. I mean, why does every performer feels like they have to do a J-Lo, acting, singing, judging shows, etc. Triple threat they call it whilst I think most of the time it's just greed as they're probably only good at one thing. With MJ, his love has always been music and performing and he's a master at it perhaps because his attention wasn't divided by doing other things he wasn't as passionate about.

  6. I don't know about that. Yeah, there have been a lot of crappy singers-turned-actors, but I fully understand the urge to want to expand one's talents in other areas. I doubt it's greed so much as wanting to scratch a creative itch. I'm not saying Jacko could've been a great actor, but it seems to me that he had a yearning for it, at the least. Why else would he choose to work with A-list directors like Scorsese and Coppola, among others?


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