Saturday, February 11, 2012

The videos of Michael Jackson: Smooth Criminal

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.

Michael Jackson's anthology movie Moonwalker never got a theatrical release in America, but segments of the film were released as music videos, such as "Man in the Mirror" and "Leave Me Alone." (It's worth checking out for the freaky Transformer sequence alone. Also, Joe Pesci.) Perhaps the best-known segment is that for the song "Smooth Criminal." Looking resplendent in a white suit with a powder blue shirt and a stylish slouch hat to match, Jackson infiltrates a lair of underground gangsters and molls and... um... controls them through the power of, uh... dance? Something like that.

Unlike the "Beat It" video, where he's out to defuse a violent situation, here he seems to be the instigator, which, I suppose, is consistent with the persona he adapts in the song. We never see anyone that answers to the name Annie, though, and as a result we never know for sure if she is, in fact, okay. You'd think the video would've answered that burning question.

As in the video for "Bad" - and Moonwalker came out around the same time as the album Bad - Jackson projects an air of hyper-masculinity and aggressiveness greatly at odds with the gentler, more androgynous image he had in life, and I have to admit, at times it's kind of amusing to see. I mean, only in a setting like a music video could a skinny little dude like Jackson stand up to dudes bigger and tougher than him and defeat, or at the very least intimidate, them. 

Even when he whips out a machine gun and appears to shoot at the cops lurking outside, there's something about it that feels like a put-on. He's never as tough as he comes across in his videos; his well-known public persona made it impossible to take scenes like this completely seriously. (His character in "Ghosts" seems to be a middle ground between the two extremes.)

There's also a strange middle section where the music stops, the lights are dimmed, and Jackson and the others engage in a slow orgy-like groove that makes no damn sense. I don't know what that's supposed to signify, and frankly, I don't wanna think too much about it either.

And once again, lurking on the periphery are little kids who are easily awed at Jackson's antics. Gaining the approval of children was a thing for him. What it means depends, I suppose, on whether you believe Jackson had a weakness for kids. We'll never know the truth one way or another.

I should also mention the Moonwalker video game based on the "Smooth Criminal" video. I remember playing the arcade version. It wasn't bad, although I didn't play it that often. I do remember it being quite popular for a time.



  1. I am of course not positive on this and the two men who could answer it one is dead and the other I don't think would care enough at this point to confer, BUT the reason we never get any answer to Annie or who she is because the song Smooth Criminal was written out of context years earlier as just a song and in rewriting it no one thought to have the song and movie actually have a proper connection.

    I didn't know that Moonwalker never aired in theatres. I know that the full length edition has never been recieved an American proper release (although the UK got a bluray). Luckily many years ago MTV did a special in which they played Moonwalker and many videos and possibly also Captain EO with no commercial interuptions (but with VJ interludes) and I taped it!

    I remember that game. I had it on the Genesis. I think there were zombies in it a certain level. Way before a zombie bonus level in video games was the norm.

  2. Hmmm. If that's true, that's kind of a dumb reason for not having an actual Annie in the video.

  3. We're talking about a movie where in the end Michael is revealed to be an Alien who is also Optimus Prime. I don't think there was much intelligence going on here.

    I mean Joe Pesci as a scary dude that people are supposed to be scared of?!?


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