I just recently ponyed up $29.99 for a copy of Michael Jackson’s Vision, a 3-DVD compilation of Jackson’s short films (not to be confused with “music videos” – it was a term Jackson never applied to his work). And while most of the early stuff is indeed “music videos,” many of them are much longer works and can easily be classified as short films.
The set plays much like Michael Jackson’s 1995 epic greatest hits setup, HIStory, in terms of how the music is arranged. Disc one includes all of his pre-1990s videos, disc two includes all of his hits from 1990 until about 1995. Disc 3 is several bonus videos of efforts with the Jacksons (the post-Jackson 5 efforts), Paul McCartney, and some of Jackson’s later work.
In this article, I am going to catalogue and recap the entire set from the glory of his early years, the peak of the mid-late 1980s (which I feel are some of his better efforts), and his move in the 1990s.
So break out that rhinestone glove and practice your moonwalk, as I examine the artistry of the legendary Michael Jackson and his Vision.
In this part, I will look at all the videos on Disc 1.
Disc One (Total Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes, 44 seconds)
Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough – Michael Jackson sports a giant black bowtie, rolls up his sleeves, and dances with himself times two in this classic late 1970s song, from his first solo effort Off The Wall. While the chroma key effects are cheesy and dated at best (the marbles in the background?), it was the starting point for a career that would have limitless potential.
Rock with You – Another classic off the album Off the Wall. What more can I say about it, except it involves lasers, rhinestones, glittery Moonboots, and a Jhericurl? The song is fun, and so are Jackson’s moves, but you already knew that!
She’s Out of My Life – One of my favorite slow Michael Jackson ballads (also from Off the Wall), where he sings about reacting to not having a formerly special woman in his life. If I remember correctly, the version in Budapest was the video where the girl got on the state and hugged him. I recall seeing that video in 1995 during an all-Michael Jackson weekend on MTV. This is not that version; rather, it’s the original version where we see Michael in quite possibly his only dressed-down effort (turquoise sweater and purple shirt with huge freakin’ lapels), once again, times two.
Billie Jean – Straight off his next album, Thriller, and regarded as a classic from an equally classic album, this 1982 song involves light-up sidewalks, the homeless (and fancy new clothes at the flip of a coin), and a talk of a kid that’s not MJ’s. Though we never do see the “kid,” MJ reminds us that “the kid is not my son!” Oh, and its another video where Jackson is cloned…twice! Either Jackson liked the effect of split-screen, or he really wanted to be in three places at once. And just who is the lurker in the detective’s garb…and what is a tiger doing there?
Beat It – Ahhh, the introduction of the red leather jacket! A choreographed street fight involving toughs with incredible dance moves, heavily decorated leather jackets (dragon emblems = badass), and Michael Jackson looking like he’s being punished in his bedroom. I always laugh at the part where he dances down a hallway, but that’s probably because Weird Al and my brother both imitated that exact same walk/snap. The fight scene at the end is not to miss, as it combines all the grittiness of street gang fight with…Jazz class.
Thriller - You know this one. You’ve seen the long version…all thirteen minutes of it. Michael Jackson and some chick in a car that “conveniently runs out of gas” on a dark road, a dark secret, a movie theater, a walk home on an equally dark road, the undead, an encounter with said group that results in yet another choreographed street dance…this video is timeless. I always find myself laughing at the part where Jackson screams “GO AWAY!” like he’s possessed by a Goa’uld (for the uninformed, that's a Stargate SG-1 reference...it just made sense). This video is legendary in the sense that Jackson’s efforts at this time are already classics. Jackson’s appearance as an “undead” is just eerie foreshadowing of what he looked like in his later years. But, all that aside, its nice to see him in the element that made him so fascinating. This is the start of those great “short films” Jackson’s music would become associated with as the 1980s progress. This is also a classic John Landis-directed production, with amazing makeup courtesy of Rick Baker.
Bad – Another of the classic short films (this time directed by Martin Scorsese), this one involving a good boy who is trying to break away from his bad influences…and rightly so, because that influence is Wesley Snipes, and we all know what makes him so “bad.” Before actually watching this today, I did not recall the school scenes and the parts with him riding the bus and the subway back to his neighborhood. I guess it’s been a while. Michael attempts to fight off the negative influences in the subway station with one of his Jazz-dance choreographies. Because it’s what all the “bad” guys do.
The Way You Make Me Feel – A street gang roughs a young woman up in the opening moments of this film, until a young man breaks away from the group, and on the advice of an old man observing the group, goes forth to be himself. And “being himself” means treating the young woman with respect, through song. You have to admire his determination, as this woman keeps trying to walk away from him, only for him to tell her how he will treat her right in song. I always did love this short film, and even more so since I’ve seen the whole thing, something I haven’t done in quite a few years. Look for Michael’s big sister LaToya as one of the love interest’s girlfriends.
Man in the Mirror – This video shows the grisly images of the plights of the homeless and starving children in Africa, as well as times where humanity has gone horribly wrong (the Klu Klux Klan, the death of John Lennon, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby, among others), as well as positive images of children meeting Santa Claus, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Farm Aid, Live Aid, USA for Africa, and Baby Jessica being rescued from the well (I guess the director was going for something newsworthy of the time). I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen this video before, but I won’t soon forget it. The song itself has always been socially conscious and hits all the right places for me, but this “short film” has furthered that effect. The final image of a newborn baby shows that life always can begin anew, and change is possible.
Dirty Diana – Jackson, clad in hardware, rages about a woman named Diana, and from what I can gather, she’s dirty for a reason…in fact, I think she’s a slut. This song is another one from Bad, and while its not my favorite song, the film is worth a look (obviously some of the footage is from a concert), and the song depicts Michael as an angry young man.
Smooth Criminal – Direct from the film Moonwalker and the album Bad, white pinstripe-suit clad MJ battles a whole other kind of gangster group in dance form…1920s mobsters! Infamous for his questions of someone named Annie being okay, this song has likely made more than a few people say “Annie is okay! For the love of God, Annie is okay!” This short film is the exact scene that was in the 1988 Michael Jackson film Moonwalker, and while that movie was, well, strange at best, this music video was pure Michael Jackson magic. In fact, he is so powerful, he can break glass skylights by pointing to them. Also look for those three kids following Jackson around…has a nice creepy undertone to it, don’t you think?
Another Part of Me – This video depicts the hysteria of going to a Michael Jackson concert, including people passing out from excitement and paparazzi taking photos of Jackson, his celebrity friends, and music that picks up with a concert performance.
Speed Demon – Another short film straight from the 1988 film Moonwalker, featuring Michael Jackson and a Claymation bunny. The song itself is actually pretty good, the short film, on the other hand, is kind of cheesy. This is a favorite dance of mine on the Nintendo Wii game The Michael Jackson Experience. Michael Jackson, on the run from the one thing we all fear most, tourists made of clay that can flatten your handlers in a cartoon-esque fashion, escapes disguised as a Claymation bunny. Once he makes it to the desert and can remove the costume, it comes to life and shares some dance moves with Michael. Look for cameos by The Noid, Sly Stallone and Pee-Wee Herman in Claymation form…and Dan Aykroyd with a wig?
Come Together – The final scene of Moonwalker, the song is a remake of the Beatles song. The children from the film who spend their time trying to get closer to Jackson (oh wait, too creepy?) get to see him from backstage at the climactic concert scene. This scene is incredible in its staging and atmosphere, and includes a creepy close-up of him grabbing “Little Michael.” This video is also proof MJ has never seen an accessory he didn't like, evidenced by his sporting of a wrestling championship belt here.
Leave Me Alone – This was a stop-motion effort, also from the film Moonwalker. In this short film, Jackson pleads for the public to just leave him the hell alone (my words, not his), amid fake newspapers showing bizarre headlines that don’t hold a candle to the ones the tabloids ran as Jackson’s public behaviors began to outweigh his musical abilities in his later years. Look for Michel in a rocketship, dancing with the Elephant Man’s bones, and on a carnival ride with a llama, among images of Bubbles the Chimp and dogs in suits.
Liberian Girl – The final entry on Disc One of Michael Jackson’s Vision. This video is a hodge podge of then-current celebrities, a man in bandages…and Michael Jackson behind the camera.
Actually, this short film felt the need to name-drop and provided a credits list of all the stars of this video, so, here they are, in order:
Beverly Johnson, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Sherman Hemsley, Brigette Nielsen, Paula Abdul, Carl Weathers, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones, Jackie Collins, Amy Irving, Jasmine Guy, Rosanna Arquette, Billy Dee Williams (who I mixed up with Carl Weathers initially, don’t ask), Lou Diamond Phillips, Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta, Corey Feldman, Steven Spielberg, Debbie Gibson (not Taylor Dayne like I initially believed), Rick Schroeder, Blair Underwood, Weird Al Yankovic, Bubbles, Suzanne Somers, Lou Ferrigno, Don King and “Son” (no seriously, that’s what it says ), Mayim Bialik, Virginia Madsen, David Copperfield, someone in bandages (credited as “?”), Richard Dreyfuss and his daughter Emily, Danny Glover, Olivia Hussey, Dan Aykroyd, and Steve Guttenberg.
Translation: Lots of names that were worth a name drop in the late 1980s that are an afterthought today (except Speilberg, Travolta, and Goldberg...and Weird Al is still cool in his own way).
And that’s Disc One. And what we’ve seen in a collection of Michael Jackson’s earliest efforts, which showed his abilities to attract celebrities and the paparazzi, dance his way through street fights, create clones, and attract women with his laundry list of what he will do for them. It’s a great collection, and I’m looking forward to Disc Two. Stay tuned!
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