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Steve Ihnat
Michael Jackson
Russell Johnson
Tor Johnson
Nathan Juran
Boris Karloff
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JACKSON, MICHAEL
(1958–2009). American singer and actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: The Wiz (Sidney Lumet 1978); Thriller (short) (and produced, and story with John LANDIS, and choreography) (Landis 1983); The Making of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (video documentary) (Landis 1983); Captain Eo (short) (Francis Ford Coppola 1985); Moonwalker (video) (and produced, and story with David Newman, and choreography) (Jim Blashfield, Colin Chilvers, and Jerry Kramer 1988); "Stark Raving Dad" (animated; voice) (1991), episode of The Simpsons; Michael Jackson: History on Film, Volume II (video) (and produced) (James Yukich 1997); Ghosts [Michael Jackson's Ghosts; Michael Jackson's Halloween Special] (short) (and story with Stephen KING, Stan WINSTON, and Mick Garris) (Winston 1997); Space Channel 5 (video game; voice) (1990); Space Channel 5: Part II (video game; voice) (2002); numerous music videos, songs on movie soundtracks,  and television appearances and performances.
 
The death of Michael Jackson has to qualify as the best career move since Elvis Presley pulled the same trick in 1977. Having previously become anathema to audiences due to countless reports of bizarre behavior, financial crises, and suspected pedophilia, Jackson in death again established himself as a best-selling artist, all of his actual and possible sins forgiven. And in light of his premature death, it also became possible to feel sorry for Jackson, one of the wealthiest and most successful singer/songwriters of all time, as the full story of his life gradually emerged: abused in childhood by a domineering father, constantly tormented by pain due to his infamous Pepsi commercial accident, driven as a result to dangerous drug addictions, and fiercely determined to keep concealing his homosexuality from a presumably hostile world. We can now better understand why Jackson had a lifelong affinity for horror movies. 

There were early signs of Jackson's interest in the fantastic: his willingness to sing the theme song to the revenge-of-the-intelligent-rats epic, Ben, and his engaging performance as the Scarecrow in an all-black film version of The Wizard of Oz that might have been charming had anyone other than Diana Ross been cast as the lead. But the indisputable turning point came with his breakthrough video Thriller. Drawing upon the best talent available, including film director John LANDIS and actor Vincent PRICE—Jackson crafted a fast-moving but bizarre narrative that defied interpretation: first, while Jackson and his girl friend are walking down a lonely road at night, Jackson turns into a werewolf and threatens the girl; then, that event is revealed as a scene in a horror film Jackson and the girl are watching, which Jackson enjoys but which causes the displeased girl to walk out of the theatre; in the city street outside, Jackson and the girl are surrounded by an army of zombies straight out of George ROMERO's Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Jackson turns into a threatening zombie as well; then, all that is revealed as the girl's nightmare, though a final green glint in Jackson's eyes as he looks at the screen indicates that he is in fact some type of unearthly being. All of this is puzzling to say the least, but the film does convey that Jackson loved horror movies, and that he felt a stronger connection to the superficial wickedness of the genre than to its underlying sentimentality.

Jackson's other ventures into "long-form" video—Captain Eo, Moonwalker, and Ghosts—never duplicated the success of Thriller. The least problematic of these, Captain Eo (a three-dimensional short film shown only at Disney amusement parks), is best described as a bad, ten-minute parody of Star Wars, with Jackson as a spaceship captain beset by cute robots and a menacing, Medusa-like alien, followed by a entertaining five-minute music video. Moonwalker and Ghosts are lengthier and more disquieting. Both cast Jackson as an heroic figure—respectively, a wanderer who becomes a Transformer-like warrior and the misfit leader of a band of gleeful ghouls—admired by young children of various races; both are essentially series of episodes presenting crowds of people gazing in awe at Jackson as he sings and dances amidst dazzling special effects; both show Jackson first dying, then being gloriously and triumphantly born again. Obviously, these films suggest a tendency towards juvenile self-celebration—as is also suggested by the ill-conceived short film Jackson made to promote his 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, which features Jackson as a general who liberates an East European country and is wildly cheered by immense crowds as a gigantic statue of Jackson is unveiled, making a viewer positively long for some redeeming sign of deprecating self-humor, like a pigeon who flies over the statue and poops on it, that never appears. Yet in Ghosts, by simultaneously casting himself as the elderly white man who hurls insults at the young eccentric, Jackson contrastingly indicated that an element of self-loathing was creeping into his psyche, which perhaps developed as he observed his immense global popularity continuing to diminish. As explorations of his troubled life continue, these will endure only as films to analyze, not as films to enjoy.

For those not interested in placing Jackson on the psychologist's couch, there is better entertainment available in his true videos, since these are less obtrusively revelatory. Several of them are fantasies, like "Remember the Time," depicting Jackson as a magician entertaining an Egyptian pharaoh (played by Eddie MURPHY) and enticing his wife, and "Earth Song," where a world ravaged by pollution is miraculously restored to its natural beauty by a mighty healing wind. And "Black or White" is truly extraordinary: Jackson dances with people from all over the world, stands atop New York's Statue of Liberty in an amalgamated world city including London's Big Ben and Paris's Eiffel Tower, and finally cedes the stage to a series of men and women of different nationalities successively "morphed" into each other. While there is power in its argument for unity among all types of people, the video did suggest that Jackson dangerously desired to be all things to all people, to appeal to everyone and offend no one, an inclination that can have no good results.

As a fortuitous antidote to these gooey embraces of the entire human race, Jackson at other times lashed out at the world like an angry child, aiming biting invective at various critics. "Leave Me Alone" (an episode from Moonwalker often shown separately as a video) takes Jackson on an amusement-park ride past various fantastic images, with scenes that visualized tabloid news reports to complement the song's denunciation of the media. And "Scream," his hostile commentary on the widespread allegations of child molestation, placed Jackson and his sister Janet on a stark, black-and-white spaceship, where he morphs at times into Janet, appears as a head in a glass chamber in scenes that recall William Cameron MENZIES's Invaders from Mars, plays a computer game resembling Pong with Janet, knocks down vases in a zero-gravity shooting gallery, and stands on the walls and ceilings mouthing the bitter lyrics—all in all, a powerful depiction of exiles increasingly going crazy from boredom and loneliness.

It would seem, then, that Jackson's videos employed the imagery of fantasy to express his identification with the world, and employed the imagery of science fiction to express his estrangement from the world—revealing that, whatever foibles he displayed in his personal life, Jackson was an intelligent and perceptive artist. Further revelations may come from the anticipated release of scores of unheard Jackson songs, though one hopes that no one attempts to create accompanying videos using craftily edited or computer-altered footage. The man deserves to rest in peace.

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