October 31, 2011

Scared yet ?

Happy Birthday to our dear sister.
Gime may the year ahead bring you joy and fulfillment of all your dreams.

Have a safe and happy Halloween !

This time of the year "Thriller" gets the much deserved attention. I don't think I'm going too far with calling it a theme song for Halloween. "Thriller" is a groundbreaking piece of visual art, with an indisputable entertainment quality. To me it's always been more than just a fun video to watch - I think it was a well thought play exploration through the idea of the good and evil, self and shadow, embedded within same person. My main argument would be these words that appear on screen ahead of the story:
"Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult" Michael Jackson

But "Thriller" is not what I wanted to write about today. Instead I want to focus on another short-film, "Ghosts". Overlooked and underrated, just like most of Michael's work after mid-80's. The song "Ghosts" fell short of making it on the "HIStory, Past, Present and Future, Book 1" album. Fortunately was rescued out of "the vault" and found itself on "Blood On The Dance Floor, HIStory In The Mix" along side "Is It Scary" (originally meant to appear on "The Adams Family Values" movie), one incredibly personal song, "Morphine", two witty, sexy, beat crazy tunes, "Blood On The Dance Floor" and "Superfly Sister" and several remixes of songs from "HIStory".

"Ghosts" took a long time to complete. In an article written for Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King (who worked with Michael on developing and finishing the project) says that Michael first presented the idea to him in 1993 - 3 weeks into filming (with "Stand" director Mick Garris) for it the project got shut down. In 1996 due to schedule conflicts, Garris beings involved with "The Shining" - miniseries version) , Stan Winston took over.
You can read here and interview with Mick Garris talking a bit his work on "Ghosts"and sharing his thoughts and memories of Michael.

"I've always wanted to be able to tell stories, stories that came from my soul. 
I'd like to sit by a fire and tell people stories - make them see pictures, make the cry and laugh, 
take them anywhere emotionally. 
I'd like to tell tales to move their souls and transform them. 
I've always wanted to be able to do that. I sometimes feel I could do that. . . "
Michael Jackson
The finished product has, according to Stephen King and Mick Garris, changed quite a bit from the original idea (wouldn't be nice to have the key to an alternate universe where the initial project is finished and get to see it?) . But I think what changed was the purpose.  As Stephen King recalls, what Michael wanted was "for me to write the scariest, the absolute SCARIEST, music video ever, called Ghosts. It will be like the old Frankenstein movies, he explains, only scarier! TERRIFYING!. We must do this. We're going to shock the world.'' To me that was no longer the focus. This time the disclaimer "Any similarity to actual events or characters living, dead, (or undead) is purely coincidental." (that appeared on "An American Werewolf in London" and "Thriller"  both directed by Landis.) would be out of place. 

I think it came out a lot more scary than the idea in 1993. It was a lot more real. It speaks of ignorance, intolerance and discrimination against anyone who does not fall in within the accepted lines. It tells a story about the soul of a man hunted and hurt because he is different. 
And who better to help him present it to the audiences but the master who created characters for "The Terminator", "Aliens and "Jurassic Park".

The story and dialogs are simple but I bet there were few people who though "Oh f*** ! It's true - he is smart". He took his (terrible) personal experience and transformed it into a tale of magic and escapism.

Critics only made his point. People got uncomfortable with him toying around with his skin, with him holding a mirror in front of the ugliness within people and making fun of the bully. It was labelled as weird. That when the argument was is not "Thriller" but a copy of it.

Big production, special effects, huge dance sequences - yes you can find that on "Thriller" but also on "Remember The Time", "Bad", "Smooth Criminal", "Black Or White" or "Scream". It was the standard he imposed.
Yes the plots from both are build upon monster chased by townsmen, using a blend of fantasy and real-life scenes but the core of the two are different.
Another similarity is that the project was, at least at first, funded by Michael himself - just like he founded his own solutions to make "Thriller" after the record company thought it was time to pull the plug and no longer promote the album thinking they got all they could (money wise of course) out of it.
"The world can be mean, and Michael didn’t have a mean bone in him. Very vulnerable and sweet. And what most people don’t realize is how smart he was and especially how funny he could be. A very witty, explosively talented guy. "
Mick Garris

Behind fantastic special effects, grand and amazing dancing sequences, Michael tackles issues like the slander he had to endure from media and public opinion fed by tabloid media frenzy, his skin disorder and plastic surgery and the public opinion 's perception of them, again reflected through years of tabloid bashing. According to Stan Winston the film wasn't also about the greed driven allegations made against him.

“In Ghosts, kids love to visit this very strange character who lives in a haunted house because they get to play with the ghosts there. But the parents think the guy is a creep, and don’t want him playing with their kids anymore. So, of course, when people saw this, they said: ‘Aha, there it is! You see? There’s Michael Jackson, the creepy guy in the house on the hill!’ But this story was written before any accusations against Michael ever came out. And I know that none of that double-meaning stuff was intended, because I wrote a lot of it!"

The one thing that is very different from "Thriller" is this time around he doesn't cover his eyes. He wanted to send out a message, he plays 5 different characters and in spite of elaborate costumes, make-up and special effects he doesn't hide his eyes. He doesn't hide his anger, his fear, his joy, his sadness, his hope, his vulnerability and gentle nature.
It's an "all in" bet-like play; the stakes?  "I'll leave or you leave me alone". The story concludes with characters having fun and enjoying the show prepared by Michael and "the family". 
"Life's about a dream
I'm really undefeated when MJ is on my team, theme
Reality brings forth realizm
It's the man of steel organizm, twizm
Not from the prizm, take charge like manilla
Nine five shaq represent with the Thrilla
Grab my crotch, twist my knee, then I'm through
Mike's bad, I'm bad
Who are you"
Shaquille O'Neal rap from "2 Bad"
The film was supposed to be released in theaters a week before Halloween in 1996. Unfortunately as it happened time and again his work got sabotaged and it ended up not even being released in DVD format. 
It was presented by Michael as an out-of-competition entry at the 50th Cannes Film Festival in May 1997. In August 1997 it was also showed during Palm Springs International Short Film Festival. It was commercially released internationally (apart from North America) on VHS and was also released along side selected prints of Stephen King's "Thinner".
Nowadays you can find it to view online on various sites.
"I'm gonna be
Exactly what you wanna see
It's you whose haunting me
Your warning me
To be the stranger
In your life

Am I amusing you
Or just confusing you
Am I the beast
You visualised
And if you wanna to see
I'll be grotesque
Before your eyes
I'm gonna be
Exactly what you gonna see
So did you come to me
To see your fantasies
Performed before your very eyes

A haunting ghostly treat
The foolish trickery
And spirits dancing 
In the light So let the performance start "

"Is It Scary" - Michael Jackson


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