Saturday, February 25, 2012

The videos of Michael Jackson: Thriller

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.

In watching "Thriller," one gets the impression that director John Landis really tried giving it the hard sell as a legitimate horror movie. Naturally, it invites comparisons with his An American Werewolf in London, a movie that, for all its scary moments, is also balanced with more than its share of dark humor. There's less of that in "Thriller," which is kind of a shame in retrospect. I would've liked to have seen a bit of that kind of sensibility.

Instead, "Thriller" hearkens back to the older, drive-in-era horror B-movies of the 50s, although perhaps that's more fitting, given the tenor of the song itself. The lyrics suggest a supernatural apocalypse of some sort, but in the end it's all a put-on - just another late night creature feature. I mentioned previously how this video came out during a period of parental unrest over alleged satanic messages in rock music, hence Michael Jackson's disclaimer at the beginning that this song is not about devil worship, though it probably would still get a pass today if it was!

This video, of course, has achieved legendary status. It's Jackson at the absolute apex of his popularity. The jacket, the zombie dance, the werewolf transformation (which compares favorably to American Werewolf) - in many ways, this is the video that defined the 80s, defined the MTV generation (ironic, given how long MTV resisted black music). When were videos more popular? When did they ever have more cultural cache? Whether you watched them on MTV or on video music shows (like I did before I got MTV), "Thriller" is emblematic of a time - maybe the last time - when pop music seemed more universal... though that may merely be my nostalgia talking. 

"Smooth Criminal"

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