Monday, October 12, 2009

Flashback On: Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

This week, we're kicking off a new feature called "Flashback On," capturing some of the most memorable dance moments on film, television, the Internet, and other multimedia. It will be part retrospective, part commentary, and a whole lot of fond memories. Our inaugural flashback is on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video, which needs no introduction. (Photo above is from its Wikipedia entry.)

You can see the official video here:

Released on December 2, 1983; "Thriller" has become one of those pop culture milestones for many who grew up since the early 1980s. Directed by John Landis and produced by George Folsey Jr., it debuted at the right time during the age of music videos. With the rise of MTV, the stage was set for something to captivate the audience. The fusion of music and television in the music video format was a wide open canvas, rife with experimentation and creativity. "Thriller" was just one of many videos that defined those early years of MTV. But few other music videos have translated across international and language barriers to inspire so many people to dance. Even today, there are renditions of the classic choreography at weddings, prison yards, and street corners as seen on Youtube. Along with Michael Jackson's rising career, "Thriller" expanded the perceptions of the music video form, adding a short narrative and production values of a feature film to its setting. It combined elements of dance, choreography, cinematic storytelling, fashion, and humor that had us spellbound. Of course, we had seen examples of this in the classic Broadway musicals on film, but few were drawn from the same social-cultural context as "Thriller."

Who knew that this almost 14-minute short film/music video would have tremendous cultural impact? For many dancers across several genres, Michael Jackson as a dancer has been recounted as one of their inspirations. "Thriller" only further cemented his place in our hearts. The image of Michael in his red jacket and pants are permanent in our minds. The film's impact is seen in creating an iconic image of Michael; who fascinated, compelled, and got us grooving to the beat. It can be argued that "Thriller" showed us another side of Michael that would become part of his legend. No longer was he the Michael of the Jackson Five or from his "Off the Wall" album. This was a Michael who was reaching for another level of cinematic immortality. His creative fingerprints continue to be felt to this day whether it be LA radio station 102.7 KISS FM playing "Thriller" on Oct 31 or choreographers looking at the music video as a reference for their own work on film and television.

Do you remember the first time you saw "Thriller"? How amazing would it be to experience something like that again - where a fusion of dance and film capture the hearts of millions worldwide. The camera brought us into that world - the movie theater, the night-time street, the graveyard - and immersed us for almost 14 minutes in the imagination of Michael Jackson and his creative team. Whether you lived in Siberia, Iceland, Japan, or Brazil; we were there together in the world of "Thriller." Now, every time we see the video or hear the title song, it brings back memories that we shared with others. It becomes a common ground for our global experience, which is also true of Michael Jackson's career and music. Like the universal language of dance, we share an emotional experience through "Thriller" and the rest of Michael Jackson's music. "Thriller" is a unique phenomenon, which put together the right elements at the right time. So it's unlikely that we'll see something identical in the future. But the possibility of experiencing a similar joy and inspiration for something new is still out there.

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