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.
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.