Michael being MICHAEL

2011-01-15 00:00

A “BITTERSWEET” look back at the making of Michael Jackson’s incredible music video for Thriller is how journalist Nancy Griffin and photographer, Douglas Kirkland, describe their new coffee table book, Michael Jackson: The Making of Thriller 4 Days/1983.

The pair were sent to cover the making of the video, which was shot in downtown Los Angeles, by Life magazine — and in her introduction, Griffin says that neither she nor Kirkland have “been in the presence of a greater talent than Michael Jackson”, before or since that time.

She adds: “Back then, Michael’s capacity for dazzling audiences seemed limitless. What we could not have known is that Thriller would represent the peak of both his artistry and personal life. While he would remain the biggest star in the world for a decade and produce more remarkable music, videos and live shows, he was ultimately unable to cope with the harsh scrutiny his superstardom brought.”

While the singer won scores of awards and was considered both a humanitarian and philanthropist, aspects of his personal life, including his changing appearance and allegations of child abuse in 1993 and 2005, generated controversy.

Jackson died at his home in June 2009, while preparing for his concert series This Is It. Before his death, he had reportedly been given drugs such as propofol and lorazepam. And, on Tuesday this week an American judge ordered his doctor, Conrad Murray, to stand trial on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in respect to the pop star’s death.

The 14-minute film, directed by John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers), was inspired by Landis’s comedy-horror, An American Werewolf in London. Jackson reportedly called the director and asked him to create the narrative short film which would turn him into a monster. Landis agreed and a cult classic was born.

Jackson, who plays a 1950s guy on a date who later turns into a werewolf, a zombie, and himself, in the video, loved the make-up he had to wear and would patiently sit in a chair for hours as it was applied. There was, however, one exception — yellow contact lenses he had to wear in some of the scenes made him wince.

Asked what he had most enjoyed about photographing Jackson, Kirkland said it was capturing his smile. “He projected this smile which could warm anybody up … That was Michael being Michael, and that’s when I made my best pictures,” he added.

Kirkland shot the photos using mainly a 300 mm long lens. The result was candid and unposed shots, which seem to capture the essence of one of the biggest stars on the planet. One of the stand-out pictures in the book is of a ghoulish Michael reaching towards the lens.

Speaking about the image, Kirkland recalls: “I said, ‘Michael, I want to be frightened by you. You are the werewolf — scare the hell out of me!’. He did this maybe three times, putting his hands out towards me menacingly… I pushed him with words as I was shooting to get him to intensify his expression. That is one of the secrets behind making this kind of photography — you must be ready to catch the moment and not let it slip away.”

In addition to around 200 exclusive and behind-the-scenes photos the book has quotes and anecdotes from Sir Paul McCartney, Beyoncé, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, as well as those who worked with Jackson on Thriller.

So, if you’re a fan of the King of Pop, then you simply have to get your hands on a copy of Michael Jackson: The Making of Thriller.

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