[Ed. note: I decided to do Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker in lieu of his passing. The Adventures of the American Rabbit will be done next week, for Fourth of July weekend. I don’t plan this kind of thing. I apologize if this seems rushed.]
MOONWALKER – (1988)
Directed by: Jerry Kramer, Jim Blashfeild, Colin Chilvers
Starring: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci (!)
Screenplay by: Michael Jackson, David Newman
A poster on a website I frequent quite often poignantly suggested that, in the case of Michael Jackson, there be a middle ground. He waxed on elaborately, but a follow-up comment summed it up quite succinctly: “That was one fucked up dude, who made some great fucking music. I think each of those facts cannot eclipse the other. They just are.”
“They just are” is probably the hardest sentiment the human mind can comprehend. With our passion for searching for truth and explanations (an assessment I fully endorse by the way, especially for scientific purposes), we can’t simply grasp that someone can be both great in one aspect and odd in another, despite the fact people like that exist all around us (Ty Cobb, Eddie Murphy, hell, even Adolf Hitler). When it comes to people, I’ve learned that it’s really best to accept them and their behavior as “they just are” instead of trying to figure it out. (See: Citizen Kane).
Jackson was the king of pop and the prince of nightmares; he was a musical genius and a creepy celebrity figure; he choreographed breath-taking dance numbers and invoked questionable relationships with children. He did both, and far be it from us to try and reconcile the two, because honestly, no one can. The media can pop wise and speculate all they want; friends and family can gossip and book-write till the end of time; doctors and psychologists can “study” the stories and anecdotes of a child pop star growing up with a commanding father for years to come; but the whole truth is that he is who he is, and whatever he thought or felt is now forever gone.
NOSTALGIC LENS: Moonwalker is actually a series of vignettes, a compilation of music videos, original content, documentary reels, and concert footage. All I remember though, is the strange, overly long “Smooth Criminal” segment, complete with Jackson the Transformer, and strange clip of Michael out-dancing a rabbit. I can’t say I liked what I saw back then, but was strangely compelled by it nonetheless. It was almost as if a part of my childish mind said “this is stupid, but engaging.” Although when you’re young, you’ll watch anything.
DOES IT HOLD UP: I don’t even know anymore. I mean, to be honest, it’s a totally different movie now. Michael Jackson past away way too soon, and now we’re looking back at his work historically way too fast, instead of gradually. So I fear I may be seeing “meaning” in things that are meaningless. Still, you can’t help but get a sense that there is a message, something that Michael was trying to say beyond simply marketing his albums. Whether it was a broad, social message or a personal one… well, that’s debatable for sure.
The film begins with his song “Man in the Mirror,” a song that, in retrospect, may be a chilling introspective on his own personal demons. It’s a heartfelt song, truly sung with an undertone of remorse and passion that went beyond his usual persona. It was at this time that the seeds to Michael’s strange behavior were sewn; the nose job, the sudden marriage, the bleaching of the skin. When he sang about changing his ways, he wasn’t quite speaking metaphorically. He seemed to have a genuine passion for saving the world, or protecting it, clearly indicated by the random historical shorts of famous political, social, and civil figures. When he couldn’t, he focused on himself and elements he felt he could save, like children, or Beatles’ songs, or… the Elephant Man’s bones. He was a hippie version of Holden Caulfield, with money and fame to burn.
(NOTE: Most of the Moonwalker clips have been marked “not to embed” so you can follow along via the youtube host’s playlist.)
This is then followed by an amazing compilation of various songs he’s performed over the years, mixed with (at the time) high-end special effects and elaborate edits. Both parts are surprisingly good, if dated; but again, I’m watching this after the fact, and I can’t help but wonder if I would be as impressed with the clips if he was still around (I would say yes, if only because to hear the unique change in his sound and style is incredible in and of itself).
Ahh, then the humor comes in. A rendition of his “Bad” video performed by kids comes on. Now, although I don’t think he actually molested any kids, his affinity towards them was always weird. Overall people hate kids, or lack a passionate desire to be around them, so seeing Michael’s closeness to them, coupled with his VERY effeminate voice, is creepy. The kids performed well, though, and Michael isn’t in that section, so it isn’t too bad.
Harmony, peace, hope—they are the themes through out this entire movie, even when quick, self-deprecating moments are shown. Following the “Bad” video, where child-Jackson waxes surprise at Bubbles wearing a Prince shirt (*WINK*), we’re treated to a Beatles-esque fan-chase scene. It’s cute, with claymation characters hot on the heels of the pop star, a clear reference to claymation sensations “The Raisins”. It’s somewhat creepy in the Uncanny Valley sense, but not that bad. To escape his obsessed clique, he dresses up as a bunny—out of ALL the possible choices available to him. Wait, what?
Anyway, we’re treated to another music video, “Speed Demon”. Now, retrospectively, this all may not make sense to a kid, since children are so comfortable in following a straightforward plot, so the compilation aspect of it may seem odd, or downright frightening. But as an adult, it makes sense, and the intention is more obvious. I got a genuine kick out of it, despite its old school ways and the fact that “Speed Demon” isn’t really that good of a song. (And one more thing—Michael Jackson would be the world’s WORST role-player. He powergames through out the entire movie. He can transform into anything! And so can his vehicle!). He then out-dances his bunny persona (WHAT?) in the world’s first “Bring It On” dance-off, and gets a ticket for it. I chuckled a bit at that. I mean, dancing? Illegal in the desert? How random—but then again, this is Michael we’re talking about.
More self-deprecating comes in my second-favorite song “Leave Me Alone”, a “Yellow Submarine” type video of visual metaphors of Jackson trying to deal with the press’s obsession over him. Again, this totally flies over you as a child but is much clearly presented now. Also, I love this song.
Now comes the part we all remember—the overly long, elaborate “Smooth Criminal” music video, where Michael the Powergamer, Kate, the cutie white girl, and two other kids discover a hamming-it-up Joe Pesci out to supply drugs to every kid in the universe. RIDICULOUS plot aside, it’s shot fairly well, with a way-too long chase sequence, and some nifty effects with Jackson transforming into a car, killer robot, and a spaceship. I suppose that these “transformations” could mean something, some outward expression or desire to “be” something else, but every time, he’s forced to change back to himself, to be himself, to “save” those around him in song and dance and fervor. Still, “Smooth Criminal” is my favorite MJ song, and it’s an amazing video, with some of the best dancing and choreography around (so good, in fact, that Michael was PISSED it didn’t win best music video at the MTV Awards that year).
Usually, this ends when Jackson flies away (a moment that’s hugely depressing now), but for the movie, he returns, and takes the kids into a concert for a final performance by him back in concert mode, singing “Come Together” (I had no idea he did a cover of this song!). It’s cool, but by the time this part comes around, the overly long “Smooth Criminal” part already wore you out, so you’re just running through the motions now.
IN A NUTSHELL: As a movie-movie, it’s not good, but as some sort of real insight into the man, music, and mysticism of Michael, it’s amazing. I want to say that somewhere in all this is the answer, that within this amazing effort of dancers, actors, writers, directors, producers, and editors, lies the hidden secret to the mind of that Man in the Mirror, that king of pop that ruled the 80s and ran strong in the 90s. But even if I were to watch this a million times, and “The Making of” video two million, there’s really no answer to it all. He was a powerful pop star and a horrible one; both a glorious figure addicted to the limelight and a tragic figure trying desperately to stay away from it. He was his best friend and his own worst enemy, his own enabler, his own killer. Maybe there is nothing beyond the facts we see; sometimes, “they just are” indeed.
July 6th: The Adventures of the American Rabbit
July 13th: The Great Mouse Detective