A film enthusiast since childhood, Michael Jackson also starred in, co-produced and appeared in cameo roles for short films and other movies built upon themes such as "good versus evil" the conciliation of conflicts between people and/or nations by means of song, dance and message and world salvation.
He also narrated films, financed some others, and provided songs for family films as main themes.
Below are examples of the said efforts:
“Ben” - 1972
On June 23, 1972, “Ben”, a film sequel to the 1971 film, “Willard”, is released in the United States. The movie is renowned for its sentimental theme song performed by Michael Jackson. Directed by Phil Karlson and produced by Mort Briskin, it tells the story of a young, lonely boy, Darry Garrison (played by Lee Montgomery) and his pet rat, Ben. The boy befriends the rat that leads a swarm of trained/telepathic rats. Nonetheless, the rodent becomes the boy's best friend and keeps his spirits high in the face of bullying and a grave illness. However, the balance of power between Danny and Ben begins to shift, with Ben beginning to control the boy and the swarm becoming increasingly irrational and violent. Ben becomes violent when the town people used pesticide and killed his partner. Eventually, the police destroy many members of the rat colony. However, Ben survives. The film closes with Danny, determined not to lose his friend, tending to a badly injured Ben. Michael Jackson, who repeatedly stated that he loved animals as he did children and felt them as his best company, is deeply involved in the interpretation of this song (i.e.: "They don't see you as I do / I wish they were trying to / I'm sure they'd think again / If they had a friend like Ben") The singer would also say that in his earlier years he felt “painfully lonely”. Jackson used to also have his own pet rats as a child, then, later on, a menagerie of exotic animals and birds, and he was a supporter of "misunderstood" animals (such as rats and snakes, which he also had as pets), as well as of the idea of “giving everything a chance”. The song wins a Golden Globe in 1973 for "Best Original Song", as well as is nominated that same year for an Oscar at the Academy Awards in the U.S. for "Best Music", and "Best Original Song". His mother, Katherine Jackson, reveals in her 1990 autobiography, "My Family, The Jacksons", that her son was saddened because he wasn't acknowledged or credited for "Ben", after it had won the Golden Globe: “Even the comment he made to me after the show -- smacked of a seasoned pro: “Mother, did you notice that in his acceptance speech, the writer of “Ben” didn’t thank me for singing the song and helped to make it a success? That he didn’t even mention my name?...”
"The Wiz” - 1978
Directed by Sidney Lumet and produced by Rob Cohen, an urbanized recount of L. Frank Baum’s educational The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – The Wiz - featuring an entirely African-American cast is released on October 24, 1978. Michael Jackson plays character Scarecrow, alongside stars Diana Ross (Dorothy), Nipsey Russell (Tin Man), Ted Ross (the Lion), Mabel King (the Wicked Witch of the West), or Thelma Carpenter (Miss One, the Good Witch of the North), Lena Horne (Glinda, the Good Witch) and Richard Pryor (the ‘Wiz’). At the beginning of the film, the scarecrow is teased by crows and even tortured while he is stuck on his pole, telling he is unable to get down from his post in the garden and walk. They make him repeat the crow commandments and sing crow anthem, “You Can’t Win” to fuel his very poor confidence in himself, until Dorothy comes up and rescues him, aided by Toto’s barkings. He is the one to pull Intelligent scraps of newspaper from his stuffing (garbage made of mostly shredded newspapers) to “lay appropriate quotes” on others to help offer advice with their problems, like “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” by Shakespeare, and others. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion meet and head for the City of Emerald, in search for a wizard said to carry mighty powers (though was proven as being a con artist), that could endow the four friends with the things they felt were missing from them: Dorothy felt that she needed a home, Scarecrow - a brain, Tin Man – a heart, and the Lion – courage. Until one day, when Glinda, the Good Witch, helped Dorothy discover her home in the heart, a fact that made her realize that all of her three friends did not need all of their requirements, as those were always within their being: Scarecrow, although being made of garbage, indeed demonstrated that he could reason throughout their journey, Tin Man proved that he was a sensitive robot, in spite of his steel body, and the Lion was, in fact, a valiant king. The film wasn’t ranked as successful, however Michael Jackson received some of the only positively reviewed comments of the film, with critics noting that he possessed "genuine acting talent" and "provided the only genuinely memorable moments." The singer would later declare in different occasions he felt a profound connection with his character, his shyness, lack of proper confidence and pain, adding that he loves him, for it “best fits my style” and “the other kids feel sorry for”. The film is, thus, an allegory of the many significant, however petty - deeds that can be accomplished when accompanied by friendship triggering more self-love and self-esteem. Jackson’s most memorable quote from the film reads: “Success, fame, and fortune, they're all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share”, a central creed of the star’s in real life as well.
"E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" Narration - 1982
In November, 1982, MCA Records release an E.T. storybook box set on vinyl and cassette, and 2 versions of a song, "Someone In The Dark", related to the film’s theme and sung by Michael Jackson. In June, the singer starts narrating the story of Steven Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial", that of a lonely boy, and a friendly alien, an allegory of loneliness and eerieness joined together as susceptible categories in search for social adjustment and tolerance on behalf of society, the singer admitting to identifying himself with such characters/classes and their goals. The Storybook is produced by Quincy Jones. The album would, however, be withdrawn later on due to a legal complaint filed by Jackson’s record label, Epic Records, against MCA, for including the original Jackson song on the album. Yet, the storybook still receives a Grammy Award 2 years later, and the song, "Someone In The Dark", later appears on the singer’s 2004 "Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection" album.
The singer has this to say about E.T., the character in the film, on occasion of an "Ebony" magazine issue from December, 1982: "Ever since I was a little boy, I've dreamed about being able to fly, and I still dream about it all the time," he explains. "When I was doing that recording (the E.T. storybook), I really felt that I was E.T., and it was because his story is the story of my life in so many ways. He's in a strange place and wants to be accepted - which is a situation that I've found myself in many times when traveling from city to city all over the world. He's most comfortable with children, and I have a great love for kids. He gives love and wants love in return, which is me. And he has that super power which lets him lift off and fly whenever he wants to get away from things on Earth, and I can identify with that. He and I are alike in many ways."
While recording the narration for the studio album, the singer becomes so emotional, that he starts crying at the part where the extraterrestrial is dying. However, producers Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones decide to leave that in.
“Peter Pan” – 1985, 1988..
On July 26, 2009, it is revealed that Michael Jackson particularly wished to play Peter Pan in a London musical. Jackson was a longtime fan of Peter Pan and his story and would consider himself Pan “in my heart”. In the 1980’s, film director, Steven Spielberg wanted to do a musical version about a grown-up Peter Pan with Jackson as the lead. Everything was set to go ahead in 1985, but Spielberg then decided he wasn't going to do the project as he had just had his first child and wanted to spend time with him. It was officially abandoned when the director decided to film Big in 1987 instead, which had similar themes of the forever young child. The artist became overwhelmed with emotion when he met theater director, Sir Trevor Nunn to seek advice on his tour around 1988 and learned he had staged performances about the story of the boy who never grew up. Trevor reveals: "He said he wanted to be able to fly over the audience and I said, 'That's not a problem. There's no difficulty, I had people flying over the audience when I did Peter Pan.' It was like I had pressed a button that would give him an electric shock - everything changed. He sat bolt upright and the excitement was just overwhelming, he jumped up, he walked round the room, he kept repeating, 'Peter Pan, oh my god, Peter Pan'. '"I explained we had done the show in London using adult actors to play the children and suddenly his eyes were brimful with tears and he came across the room and he knelt down in front of me and he grabbed my knees and he said, 'Could I play Peter Pan? Is it too late for me to play Peter Pan?'"
“Peter Pan” is a 1953 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and based on the 1904 play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up by J. M. Barrie. It is the fourteenth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series and was originally released on February 5, 1953 by RKO Pictures. The film was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. A sequel titled Return to Never Land and a prequel titled Tinker Bell were released in 2002 and 2008 respectively. In the London nursery of three children of the Darling family, Wendy, John and Michael Darling receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Never (Never) Land (Jackson’s inspiration for his Neverland Ranch). With the help of his tiny friend, the fairy Tinkerbell, Peter takes the three children on a magical flight to Never Land. This enchanted island is home to Peter, Tink, the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and her Native American nation, and the scheming Captain Hook, who is as intent on defeating Peter Pan as he is from escaping a tick-tocking crocodile that once ate a hand of his that Peter Pan cut off.
"Captain EO" - 1986
On September 12, 1986, a 3-D film, "Captain EO", starring Michael Jackson, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and executive-produced by George Lucas, is released for the first time. The film tells the story of Captain EO (played by Jackson) and his spaceship crew, with the responsibility to present a gift to a wicked queen (played by actress Anjelica Huston) from a deplorable planet: the gift of transforming her threatening, vile appearance into an appealing one, by unlocking the beauty within her with his magical and music powers. EO is left alone to confront the queen’s whip warriors; struggling, he, eventually, succeeds in transmuting them and the queen, the latter gaining a becoming appearance, her lair appearing as a peaceful Greek temple, and the planet - a verdant paradise with blissful inhabitants. The story emphasizes the power of good over evil, by virtue of music, the universal language, and the peaceful effects it creates.
Here is what Michael Jackson has to say on the movie in his "Moon Walk" autobiography:
"[…] I told them (the staff from the Disney Studios) that Walt Disney was a hero of mine and that I was very interested in Disney's history and philosophy. I wanted to do something with that Mr. Disney himself would have approved. I had read a number of books about Walt Disney and his creative empire, and it was very important to me to do things as he would have. […] "Captain Eo" is about transformation and the way music can help to change the world. George (Lucas) came up with the name Captain Eo. (Eo is Greek for "dawn.") The story is about a young guy who goes on a mission to this miserable planet run by an evil queen. He is entrusted with the responsibility of bringing the inhabitants light and beauty. It's a great celebration of good over evil."
"Bad" - 1987
In September, 1987, the short film, "Bad" - written by novelist and screenwriter Richard Price, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Michael Jackson - is released, featuring the omonimously titled song. It tells the story of highschool boy, Daryl (played by Jackson), who, after completing a successful term at an expensive private school, returns to his hometown, in a deserted neighborhood. He is welcomed there by his old friends, with whom he spends an evening, although the situation degenerates into arguments soon upon them noticing Daryl’s change of character (a consequence of his private-studies term) and intolerance toward petty crime. In an attempt to demonstrate his gang of friends that he hasn’t lost his "bad" capacities, he meets the gang in a subway station from Brooklyn, New York, where he tries to rob an elderly man, although, as he sees the gang ambitiously approaching, he drops his attempt by urging the man to escape. After being rebuked by the gang leader, the video "leaps" to Daryl dressed in a black outfit and buckles, and to a group of dancers, and performs song "Bad", a musical alarming protest against violence, and a sequel to "Beat It", another video with a similar message, that of music being the authentic language of conciliation for people. The performance ends with the gang comprehending the song’s message and leaving, after which the video reverts back to a final scene of Daryl wearing his former clothes, pensively watching them leave.
Epic, his record company back then, declare that the song/video tells the story of "self-awareness and improvement".
"Moonwalker" - 1988
On October 29, 1988, Warner Bros. Pictures release the film, "Michael Jackson: Moonwalker", a collection of short film-performances of the singer, one of which – short film, "Smooth Criminal" - including the story of a benevolent gangster, Michael, (played by Jackson) with spectacular powers used to protect the children of an unnamed city. The guarding of children and of Planet Earth as a whole is the production’s aim and morale. The main focus of the evil forces in the film is Mr. Big (played by actor) Joe Pesci, a drug dealing mobster with a large army aiming to transform the world’s population, particularly the children, into a drug-addicted one. Mr. Big succeeds in kidnapping one of the children (starring alongside Jackson in the film), and threatens to inject her with highly addictive narcotics. As a shooting star flies by – the character Jackson plays drawing his powers from these celestial phenomenons -, and provoked by the pressures of the impending perils, he metamorphosizes into a colossal robot, then into a spaceship, and exterminates the mentioned evil forces, rescuing the children from a fatal end. This 'good-against-evil' allegory opens with a "Man In The Mirror" performance by the singer, featuring a montage of clips from Africa, of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other historical figures, in support of the song’s relief-oriented message.
That same year, Doubleday publishes "Moonwalker – The Storybook", written by Jackson, a short children’s story based on the above-mentioned "Smooth Criminal" short film, while in 1990, Genesis/Sega will create several video games following the film’s story and concept. Michael Jackson aids with the game design. In the game, the player – the smooth criminal - attempts to defeat the bad guys with the genius and power of his various dance moves, while songs “Beat It”, “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal” are playing in the background.
“The Phantom Of The Opera” - 1988..
On June 29, 2009, theater impresario, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber reveals that Michael Jackson wished to star in the movie version of the hit musical, ‘Phantom Of The Opera’. After watching the show, which debuted in 1988, numerous times, the artist was left so impressed that would often go backstage to visit the play’s cast and discussed seriously with Lloyd about starring as ‘The Phantom’ in a big screen adaptation of the hit musical. But Lloyd Webber could not make it happen for Jackson back then, as he wasn’t ready to turn it into a film. However, when the helmer did make the movie in 2004, he cast Gerard Butler. “The story got to him. I think he had a connection with the lonely, tortured musician. He found the idea of somebody working through music and having a girl as a muse very intriguing - and he loved that there was illusion in the show,” Weber was quoted as saying. “Michael became interested in playing The Phantom himself, in a movie version of the show. We talked about it a lot, but we’d only just opened and, at the time, I felt that it was too early for it to become a film. I felt his interest in Phantom was because he was interested in doing something theatrical himself,” Webber adds.
“Edward Scissorhands” - 1990..
Michael Jackson was to star for a major movie role: “Edward Scissorhands”, produced by screenwriter, Caroline Thompson’s, who also wrote The Addams Family, The Nightmare Before Christmas and last year’s City of Ember. Shortly after the singer’s sudden demise, Thompson, in an interview with Viceland, declares: “Larry Wilson - who I wrote The Addams Family with - and I wrote a film for him. The director was Anton Furst, who was the production designer on Tim Burton’s Batman.”, says the screenwriter. “[…] We had a very long and hilarious day at Neverland with him. […] Oh, he was a huge ‘Edward Scissorhands’ fan; that’s why I was hired for the job. I’m sure he would have loved to have been Edward Scissorhands. […]” Thompson further adds that they eventually turned the project in, and that “Anton [Furst] didn’t want to [do it], which is when I said, “Grow up, Anton.” I told him it is what it is and we’ll see what happens. Anton was scared, it was his first movie. He had no idea what shape it should be in to go to the studio. […] And [Anton] was [also] going to rehab [at the time]”. Thompson’s idea behind this project was motivated by “being in the world, and the whole world loves you, and then you don’t do what the world wants you to do, and they all turn against you.”
“Edward Scissorhands” is, as the fim’s subtitle indicates, “The Story Of An Uncommonly Gentle Man”, a 1990 American romantic fantasy film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. The film shows the story of an artificial man named Edward, an unfinished creation, who has scissors instead of hands. Edward is taken in by a suburban family and falls in love with their teenage daughter, Kim. He becomes the source of fantasy, gossip, resentment, adoration and lust for the neighbors (very much like Jackson himself), whom he wins over with his outlandish haircuts and elaborate sculptures. Burton explains that his depiction of suburbia is "not a bad place. It's a weird place. I tried to walk the fine line of making it funny and strange without it being judgmental. It's a place where there's a lot of integrity." Kim leaves her jock boyfriend (Jim) to be with Edward, an event that many have postulated as Burton's revenge against jocks he encountered as a teenager. Supporting roles are portrayed by Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Alan Arkin and Vincent Price (credited for Michael Jackson’s 1982 hit single, ‘Thiller’, as the scary speaking voice). Burton conceived the idea for ‘Edward Scissorhands’ from his childhood upbringing in suburban Burbank, California. Caroline Thompson was hired to adapt Burton's story into a screenplay, and the film began development at 20th Century Fox. The film received numerous nominations at many important awards, as well as winning the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Although not publicly known, Burton's first choice for the role of Edward was Michael Jackson, but there were circumstances that made this impossible, as explained above. Burton acknowledged that the main themes of Edward Scissorhands, a fairy-tale book, deal with self-discovery and isolation. Edward is found living alone in the attic of a Gothic castle, a setting that is also used for main characters in Burton's Batman and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Edward Scissorhands climaxes much like James Whale's Frankenstein and Burton's own Frankenweenie. A mob confronts the "evil creature", in this case, Edward, at his castle. With Edward finally unable to consummate his love for Kim because of his appearance, the film can also be seen as being influenced by Beauty and the Beast. Jackson was of fan of all these movies and tales and could identify with the protagonist characters and people’s often erroneous and grotesque perception of them. Edward Scissorhands is a kind and pure-hearted young man created by an elderly inventor. Although widely accepted at first, his innocence and obedience eventually get him into trouble, which was very much the case with Jackson throughout his life.
"Free Willy" Soundtracks - 1993, 1995
Michael Jackson provides song "Will You Be There" for the family film (released July 16, 1993) about the protection of Orcas and their release from shelters or amusement parks back into the waters. Willy is one such Orca and the film captures the friendship between a young boy, Jesse, and the mammal. "Will You Be There", released as a single in July, 1993, from his album "Dangerous", appears on the soundrack for "Free Willy", being heard during its credits, as well as in a music video with mixed clips from the film and some of the singer’s performances of the song. Jackson resumes his affiliation with the series 2 years later, performing song "Childhood" (from the "HIStory" album) in a music video for "Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home", sequel released on July 19, 1995, with the song as its main melodic theme; the video for "Childhood", bears little in common with the corresponding film, features the singer seated on a tree stomp while singing, and children - among whom lead actor of "Free Willy", Jason James Richter (Jesse) - flying on airships through the forest at night, a surreal representation of childhood innocence and freedom.
“The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao” musical remake - 1994
In early 1994, Michael Jackson, a huge fan of fantasy, magic and musicals, has been involved in developing a musical remake of the fantasy movie, ‘The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao’, which was originally released in 1964. “Seven Faces of Dr. Lao” is a 1964 film adaptation of the 1935 fantasy novel “The Circus of Dr. Lao” by Charles G. Finney. It details the visit of a magical circus to a small town in the southwest United States, and the effects that visit has on the people of the town. The novel was adapted by Charles Beaumont, directed by George Pal and starred Tony Randall in the title roles.
“Sisterella” - 1996
Michael Jackson and Jerry Greenberg are the executive producers of the musical 'Sisterella', the black adaptation of “Cinderella”, which opened at the Pasadena Playhouse in California, USA on March 17, 1996 and was a huge sucess. Jackson attends the last showing of the play. The 'Sisterella' stage production also appeared in some parts of Europe, such as Germany (in December, 1996), and premiered in Melbourne, Australia at 'The Regent Theatre' on March 7, 1998. Jackson was a renowned fairytale fanatic. “Cinderella”, or “The Little Glass Slipper" is a classic folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances which suddenly change to remarkable fortune. The word "cinderella" has come to mean one whose attributes are unrecognised, or one who unexpectedly achieves recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect. Larry Hart, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the black adapted story, is a Grammy-award-winning gospel singer and song writer and also stars in “Sisterella”. Michael Jackson became involved with the production of this play when Hart presented the original music tracks to him. Jackson saw the potential of Sisterella's music and immediately acquired the soundtrack rights and signed Larry Hart to a solo record deal.
The show is set in New York in 1912. Multi-millionaire John Kensington has died and is survived by his daughter, Ella, his second wife, Dahlia and his stepdaughters, Magnolia and Chrysanthemum. Dahlia plays the role of the grieving widow, anticipating inheriting his entire estate valued at over 900 million dollars. Later, it is discovered that Ella is going to inherit the estate from her father, a fact that leaves her stepmother and two stepsisters jealous and disturbed. In an attempt to secure the inheritance for themselves, the evil stepfamily devises a cowardly plot for Ella's demise. There's a prince and even the fairy Godfigure in this play, as well as lawyers, a court case and a trial. And a very happy ending. “Sisterella”, has got dynamic staging, lavish costuming, lighting and special effects, rousing toe-tapping, hand-clapping music with lyrics that are clever, funny and satirical. Choreographer Raymond Del Barrio combines ballet with modern dance, waltzes, moonwalks, acrobatics and other styles invigorating the stage. “Sisterella” wins a staggering 8 NAACP Theater Awards at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in the United States.
“Ghosts” - 1996
Written by Michael Jackson and horror-sci-fi – fantasy author, Stephen King, Ghosts is a short film or long-form music video starring Michael Jackson and directed by film director and special effects professional, Stan Winston. It is filmed and first screened in 1996 and released along with select prints of the film “Stephen King's THINNER”. It is released on May 9, 1997 on VHS.
The film is a audio-visual satire which tells the story of a scary Maestro with supernatural powers (played by Michael Jackson), who is being forced out of a small town by its mayor (also played by Jackson). The movie includes a series of dance routines performed by the entertainer and his "family" of ghouls. Every song from the film was taken from Michael Jackson's HIStory and Blood on the Dance Floor albums. The Maestro lives alone in a frightening-looking mansion on top of a hill, overlooking the town of "Normal Valley". The town’s Mayor organizes the townspeople to go to the Maestro's mansion and force him out of town. Some of them show reluctance to do so, but are pressured into joining the Mayor on his crusade. On a stormy night they go to the Maestro's mansion (which instead of a numbered address, is addressed "Someplace Else"). The children assure the parents that the Maestro has done nothing wrong, and ask that they leave him alone. But the Mayor remarks, "He's a weirdo. There's no place in this town for weirdos!" The front gate opens, frightening the townspeople, who make their way to the front door, which also opens by itself. They make their way into the house, and once they are all inside, the front door slams shut and locks itself. Hesitantly, the townspeople make their way to the dance hall, where they are greeted by The Maestro who makes a scary yet comical entrance. The Mayor angrily confronts him, calling the Maestro "strange", "weird", and a "freak", and telling him that he's not welcome in their town. The Maestro defends himself, and in response, the Mayor threatens him to leave. To this the Maestro replies, "You are trying to scare me. I guess I have no choice; I guess I have to scare you." He then makes a series of funny faces, which the Mayor calls "ridiculous" and "not funny". In a change of tone, the Maestro asks, "Is this scary?" and manipulates his face and removes it all, revealing his skull .The frightened townspeople run for the doors, which the Maestro shuts with his magical powers, then smashes his skull with his fists, revealing his normal head. The Maestro then reminds the Mayor that he's not alone, and introduces his "family" of ghouls who, along with the Maestro, perform an extended dance routine (to original music composed by Michael Jackson) which alternately impresses and scares the townspeople. He transforms the Mayor into an ugly, horrific demon. After his performance ends, the Maestro asks, "Do you still want me to go?". While the townspeople respond "no", the mayor vehemently replies affirmatively. The Maestro quietly agrees, and after smashing his hands and face into the floor, his face and body crumbling into dust blown away by the wind. The townspeople are saddened by this, and somewhat sorry to see him go. The Mayor however thinks he has come out victorious, yet when he opens the door, he finds a monstrous-looking Maestro-demon head which says "HELLO" and terrifies him, and he runs away scared. The townspeople then turn back to the now open front doors to see the Maestro standing there, laughing. He asks if they all had a good time, and the townspeople realize they did. They figure he isn't so bad after all and make peace with him.
Jackson’s purpose for this short film was not to scare families and children, as he would assure. This audio-video satire reflects Jackson’s own reality, in which people who don’t know him choose to believe in the media’s distorted portrayal of him – painting him weird, a freak and even a monster, grossly manipulating and dissecting his character. The old Mayor he portrays most likely represents former Santa Barbara prosecutor, Thomas Sneddon. The frightening-looking house is most likely the result of the tabloid media depiction of the singer's Neverland Ranch - an unsafe haven for children. Jackson’s revealing words in his song, “Is It Scary”, performed among others in this short film, say: “I’m gonna be / Exactly what you wanna see, / It’s you who’s haunting me /You’re warning me / To be the stranger in your life; / […] Am I the beast you visualized? / And if you wanna see / Eccentric oddities / I’ll be grotesque before your eyes”, therefore Jackson played the role of the persona the Mayor and townspeople thought they would encounter, entertaining them this way because “I'm tired of being abused, /You know you’re scarying me too, / I see the evil is you”. He teaches the “evil” media (which he calls in song, “Ghosts” – “the ghost of jealosy” that “scare my family” and “shake my family tree” and also view them as strange) a lesson by means of his – the Maestro’s – art. For his “heart” is “just not what you seek of me”, but “the truth, the purity / It’s here inside a lonely heart.” In “Ghosts”, Jackson performed the media’s and the “normal” society’s “fantasies”, while children, whom Jackson would trust and adore, assure their parents and authorities that the Maestro has not done something wrong to be treated badly and be wanted away.
“The Nightmares of Edgar Allan Poe” - 1999..
Since 1999, there have been reports about Michael Jackson intending to star in an independent film, a European-funded project on poet and first Gothic writer, Edgar Allan Poe’s life, titled “The Nightmares Of Edgar Allan Poe”. The singer wished to take the title role in the film, him being a longtime fan of Poe’s, in an 1977 interview confessing he would be asked by his teacher to come in front of the class and read his Poe-like poems. Jackson was sensitive to Poe’s pains and struggles and appreciated his writing genius. The entertainer is – or, at least, should be known for his ability to empathize with the misunderstood and search for the good in everything and everyone without placing judgements or having prejudiced opinions. The executive producers for this eventually unmade film were to be, alongside Jackson, Gary L Pudney and Jim Green. Poe, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts, died aged 40 in 1849 after a life of misery and madness, and an obsessive fascination with the supernatural. He was best known for his poems, short tales and literary criticism. Poe has never before been the subject of a major movie biography, though a 20th Century Fox film called “The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe” was made in 1942, and the writer was a character in a 1951 MGM mystery called “The Man with a Cloak”. Screenwriter Philip Levin, who came up with the idea for “The Nightmares of Edgar Allen Poe”, was said to be writing the screenplay, which would cover the week before Poe's death. The exact cause of Poe's death, in Baltimore, remains a mystery. Five days earlier, he had been found semi-conscious and delirious – allegedly a victim of alcohol, heart failure, epilepsy - or a combination of these. “Michael says by the time he’s done preparing for this, the audience isn’t even going to know it’s him, with the major makeup,” co-executive producer, Gary Pudney tells USA Today’s Jeannie Williams in 2000. “The new Michael is Michael Jackson, the movie actor. That is what he wants to devote his energies to.”, Pudney adds. Although the movie was not a musical, Jackson planned to sing a song with lyrics based on Poe’s poetry over the closing credits. Producer Pudney said Jackson had talked to Steven Spielberg about the project, who was enthusiastic at the time and suggested several potential directors, including Tim Burton.
When “This Is It”, the documentary, became a huge hit, critics such as Armond White bemoaned the wasted opportunities Michael Jackson had for a film career and asked why Hollywood never made a greater effort to cash in on Michael’s talent for the big screen. In 1999, it did look like “The Nightmares of Edgar Allan Poe” was all set to go into production, and had the entertainment industry abuzz.
“You Rock My World” - 2001
Released on September 21, 2001, “You Rock My World” incorporates elements typical of feature movies to result in the thirteen-minute cinematic short, portraying the two main lead actors, (Michael Jackson, Chris Tucker) playfully fighting for a woman’s affection, who changed Jackson’s life for the better. A full set including restaurant and street scenery, bar props, and formal wardrobe accentuate the “gangster movie” vibe of the short film, similar to “Smooth Criminal”, complete with group dancing, a style Jackson is credited for popularizing. A high-profile list of actors co-star alongside Jackson, including Tucker, Michael Madsen, and late Marlon Brando. Comical scenes between Jackson and Tucker conjure up sentiments of joy, while scenes portraying Jackson wooing and dancing with female lead Kishaya Dudley evoke feelings of romance and protection. The video later depicts fear and courage, the singer and Tucker engaging themselves in fighting with the Cuban bar’s owners and their security people which they succeed in overcoming. The bar catches fire, but Jackson eventually makes it safely outside where he encounters his female partner. ‘Are you okay?’, asks softly Jackson, followed by a kiss between the two and them, as they run towards the car Chris Tucker is driving. This short film remains a memorable, yet underestimated piece illustrating the conflicts between the good and the evil and the triumph of the latter.
“Men In Black II” - 2002
On July 3, 2002, sci-fi action comedy, “Men In Black II” (the sequel to the 1997 film, “Men In Black”), directed by Benny Sonnenfeld and executively produced by Steven Spielberg, is released, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and Lara Flynn Boyle. The film also stars Johnny Knoxville, Rosario Dawson and Rip Torn. Both of the series based on the Malibu comic book series “The Men in Black” by Lowell Cunningham. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are back as super-agents Kay and Jay, their latest mission being saving the world from an intergalactic disaster. Michael Jackson - an avid fan of comic books and of “Men In Black”, and as a favor to Will Smith, one of his friends - makes a very brief cameo appearance in the second series of the film as himself wanting to be Agent M. When a renegade Kylothian monster, disguised as a lingerie model, threatens the survival of the human race, the MIB’s are called to duty. With their headquarters under siege and time running out, Agents Kay and Jay enlist the help of Frank the Pug and a posse of hard-living worms to help them with their mission. Both critics and the public would praise Jackson's performance in the movie.
"Miss Castaway and the Island Girls” - 2004
In 2004, American anarchic comedy B-movie,“Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls”, is written and directed by Bryan Michael Stoller, and it features Michael Jackson, who appears in a cameo role as a favor to Stoller, one of his friends. As the film opens, a plane carrying beauty contestants has crash-landed on a deserted island. Captain Maximus Powers (played by Eric Roberts) and co-pilot Mike Saunders (played by Charlie Schlatter) have to take care of their passengers, while also avoiding the dangers of Jurassic Pork (a giant prehistoric pig) and a group of apes who are busy building an ark. Agent M.J. (played by Michael Jackson) arrives in the midst of them as a hologram from a special cosmic void, having been sent to urge them to destroy the ark in order to help save the world from an imminent planetary disaster. On his first appearance (to Agent Mike Saunders), he states: “Good evening, agent Mike. The ark will sail for 40 days and 40 nights. You must stop it. […] You have to stop it, Mike. If the ark sails, it will trigger the most terrible, horrific storm, but perfect storm, if you will. History shall repeat itself unless you, unless you, Mike, can prevent it. The only way to stop this catastrophic event is to destroy the ark. Destroy the ark and you destroy the storm. Noah is being held against his will and the ark has been taken over by species that plan on surviving on the ark and taking over mankind once the storm ends. […] The world is depending on you. I am depending on you. […] God bless you. […]” Agent MJ’s biblically-charged, apocalyptic message confuses agent Mike, but ultimately believes it and informs his disbelieving cast mates about it. Agent M.J. returns one more time to them all and stresses: “[…] Your cast mate is telling the truth. If you do not destroy the ark, then mankind will pay dearly for the consequences. […] The perfect storm will last for a biblical 40 days and 40 nights, drowning most of the planet. The species occupying the ark will then have the advantage to take over the world. You must not let this happen. It’s up to all of you and Mike. Michael, save the world. […] God bless you.” Michael Jackson's scenes were filmed on Neverland Ranch, where Jackson lived during that time, and the film’s director, Brian Michael Stoller explains in a news release that “Jackson has an amazing vision”. The movie was due to be released in theaters in the summer of 2004, but Jackson's legal problems during that time made the movie's distributors put plans on hold. The movie was displayed in three film festivals during 2004, was shown on television in Russia in 2005, and was finally released to DVD in the USA on July 26, 2005.
“They Cage The Animals At Night” - 2009..
In 2009, Shortly after the singer’s untimely demise, B-movie producer, writer and director Bryan Michael Stoller declares that Michael Jackson was partners with him in the film company Magic Shadows, and that, 3 months before his passing, the singer-entertainer met with him and discussed reviving a book-drama about foster children as an indie movie, having been committed to co-directing, financing and planning to start the work on the project as soon as he completed the London concerts. “He was very excited about making movies and wanted his hands on everything, from working on screenplays to producing, to writing the music”, Stoller says. The project was to be based on a 1984 book, “They Cage The Animals At Night”, one of Jackson’s favorite books, about the real-life experiences of author Jennings Michael Burch, who spent most of his childhood in many foster homes as a child. Due to struggling with being a single mother, Burch's mother placed her sons in foster care in 1949, when Jennings was eight, but she vowed that she would be back. Between 1949 and 1954, he had stayed in 32 foster homes, moved with his family three times, and stayed with at least three sets of foster parents. He documented this period of time in his memoir, “They Cage the Animals at Night”. Jackson showed the book to Stoller in 2002 at his Neverland estate and asked if he wanted to produce and co-direct a movie version. “Michael told me often he felt like he grew up as an orphan, like a foster kid, because he never was in one home,” Stoller says. “To him every hotel was like a different foster home. He said he used to sit in the window and see kids playing outside and cry because he couldn't be part of that.”. Stoller adds that the author of the book was excited to work with the singer and that Jackson wasn't interested in making a blockbuster. “He wanted to do movies the Academy would like. Michael was going to put up 8 million dollars and not have to deal with any studios or producers and then take it to the studios afterward,” Stoller recalls. “He was very passionate about being a director. He was determined to make this movie.” In 2003, Michael Jackson arranged to have author Jennings Michael Burch visit Neverland. During the visit, Jackson sat down and interviewed Burch about his childhood hardships and works, in addition, Burch shows him a stuffed pet he would find comfort in and be his only friend during his childhood. At one point, Burch breaks down in tears and asks the singer if he would be his friend forever, to which a sympathetic Jackson gets up and embraces him, assuring him that he would.
“This Is It” - 2009
“This Is It” is the name of the gig Michael Jackson was scheduled to start on July 13, 2009 at the London’s O2 Arena. But upon his tragic, untimely passing (at the hands of his own doctor) on June 25, 2009, “This Is It” remains a post-mortem testimony of a misunderstood genius, a display of rare, behind-the-scenes selected footage of the performer as he developed, created and rehearsed for his sold-out concerts that would have taken place in the summer of 2009 in London's O2 Arena. There have been many controversial rumors pertaining to the exact number of dates Jackson had agreed to honor. His former manger, Leonard Rowe, make-up artist, Karen Faye, as well as fans say that Jackson had told them he only had agreed to honor 31 dates, and there are other voices claiming there were no more than 10 and that he was forced by the circumstances - of more show dates requests on behalf of fans, to comply. Moreover, President and CEO of AEG Live – the singer’ partners for this deal, would declare not long after Jackson’s announcement of the London shows in March, 2009, that this opportunity was a “do-or-die moment” for the artist.
Chronicling the months from May through June, 2009 (especially from the singer’s last 2 days), the film is produced with the full support of the Estate of Michael Jackson and drawn from more than one hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, featuring Jackson rehearsing a number of his songs for the show. Audiences are given a privileged and private look at Jackson, as he has never or rarely been seen before. In raw and candid detail, Michael Jackson's “This Is It” captures the singer, dancer, film-maker, architect, creative genius, and great artist at work as he creates and perfects his show. It also inherently captures his personal qualities. Kenny Ortega, who was both Michael Jackson's creative partner and the director of the stage show, is also directing the film, which is being produced by Randy Phillips, Kenny Ortega and Paul Gongaware. Executive producers are John Branca and John McClain. The opening day for the cinema viewing of the documentary was October 29, 2009, stretching only on a limited period of a few weeks, the movie being available on DVD and Blu-Ray as well starting with January 26, 2010.
Michael Jackson had agreed to do these shows for his children, who never witnessed their father’s stage performances, as well as for his fans, whom he loved, and was also to make a statement via the “This Is It” concerts, that “[…] It starts with us. It's US! Or else it'll never be done. We have four years to get it right. After that it would be irreversible. Let's take care of the planet!...” He refers to the devastating effects of global warming worldwide, and he also includes the following motivation behind “This Is It”, made to his crew during a rehearsal break captured for the documentary: „This is the moment. It’s an adventure. It’s a great adventure. You wanna take them places that they’ve never been before. You wanna show them talent like you’ve never seen before. I love you all and we’re family. Just know that, we’re a family. If we could put love back into the world, to remind the world that love is important. Love is important, to love each other. We’re all one.”
The film was released to mainly positive reviews from both critics and Jackson fans, criticism mainly consisted of both critics and fans. The criticism arose in both the cases of critics and fans having felt that the film was made just to profit off Jackson's death and that Jackson wouldn't have wanted the film released because he was a "perfectionist". In the film's opening weekend, it grossed over 23 million dollars - in the United States alone - making the film number one at the box office, as well as the fifth highest-grossing Halloween debut.The film's worldwide revenue gross was in total of 260.8 million dollars during its theatrical run, which made it the highest grossing documentary / concert movie of all time.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” - 1962 *trivia*
Michael Jackson kept his spirits up during his 2005 trial by watching movie classic, “To Kill A Mockinbird”. Jackson's movie-making friend, Brian Michael Stoller, insisted the film would help to cheer his friend up, despite its dark subject matter and the fact the storyline reflected his own real-life problems. Stoller tells that "It's his favourite movie. He has an actual 35-millimetre print of the movie. I said to him one day, 'You're living To Kill a Mockingbird right now - it was all about a black man who was on trial. And you're innocent.’ It was just really weird that was his favourite film even before these allegations happened." On June 13, 2005, Michael Jackson was found not guilty on all charges brought against him two years before. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was instantly successful and has become a classic of modern American literature. The film, baring the same name, is released two years later in December and is an American drama adaptation of the novel. It stars Mary Badham in the role of Scout and Gregory Peck (one of Michael Jackson’s good friends) in the role of Atticus Finch. The film's young protagonists, Scout (played by Mary Badham) and her brother, Jem (Phillip Alford), live in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930’s. The story covers three years, during which Scout and Jem undergo changes in their lives. They begin as innocent children, who spend their days happily playing games with each other and spying on the town bogeyman (played by Robert Duvall). Through their father's (Gregory Peck) work as a lawyer, they begin to learn of the racism and evil prevalent in their town, and painfully mature as they are exposed to it. Tom Robinson (an African-American man accused of raping Mayella Ewell), is convicted, even though all evidence points to his innocence. Atticus says during Robinson’s trial that "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird". It is no wonder why Jackson would identify himself with Robinson and his story, which now reverberates even stronger and more eerie after the singer’s passing. A mockingbird represents innocence and the title of the book and film signifies killing innocence. In reference to this quality which many adults have forsaken, Michael Jackson confesses to the reader through his poem, “Magical Child” from his 1992 book, “Dancing The Dream”, that his “power of innocence, of compassion, of light / Threatened the priests and created a fright, / In endless ways they sought to dismantle / This mysterious force which they could not handle. / […] And while they whispered and conspired / Through endless rumors to get him tired, / To kill his wonder, trample him near, / Burn his courage, fuel his fear, / The child remained just simple, sincere […]”, and continues to write how “With cruel darts they tried to plunder, / To suffocate and strangle his innocent wonder” in his other poem-sequel, “Magical Child II”.
“The Elephant Man” - 1980 *trivia*
In 1986, it was reported (a then 27 year-old) Michael Jackson had contacted the Royal London Hospital in an attempt to secure the remains of Joseph Merrick, a.k.a. The Elephant Man, for 1 million dollars, a rumor the entertainer would refute during being interviewed by Oprah in 1993. He notes: "I love the story of the Elephant man. He reminds me of me a lot, and I could relate to it. It made me cry, because I saw myself in the story, but no, I never asked for the....where am I going to put some bones?" In his 1988 video for “Leave Me Alone”, directed against rumors he dispelled as false, Jackson appears at one point dancing with the bones of Merrick, laughing off the said story about him wishing to purchase his bones. In her controversial 1991 autobiography, “La Toya: Growing Up In The Jackson Family”, sister La Toya Jackson supports her brother’s deep interest in unjustly treated creatures: “In the course of reading his medical books, Michael developed a fascination with freaks of nature. He devoured information about every conceivable condition and could talk for hours about the lives of Siamese twins, the famed Alligator Man, and other sideshow celebrities. Because of his interest in these poor creatures, the press has gleefully depicted Michael as some sort of morbid creep. But as with so many facets of my brother’s personality, all I can say is, if you knew him like I do, you’d see that it’s not macabre at all. […] The sight of a starving African child on TV moves him to tears. He was overcome with sympathy for freaks such as the Elephant Man, crying no matter how many times he sees David Lynch’s film about John Merrick. “Imagine what life was like for them”, he’d say sadly. “How hard it must have been to be stared at wherever they went, taunted, and to be considered so different from normal people, even though they probably had the same feelings…” […] I get angry when Michael’s curiosity in this field is made fun of. It’s not out of mockery that he takes an interest, but caring.”
Below is a summary of “The Elephant Man”’s emotional and compelling story. It is no wonder why Jackson could relate to it significantly, having been mercilessly teased and mocked about his appearance both as a child and as an adult, when he developed the milk-white skin condition, Vitiligo.
Dieter Weisner, Michael Jackson’s former manager, reveals in an exclusive interview with MJKlub Portal (the former JacksonVillage) in October, 2010, that his former boss planned a project, called “Pinocchio 3000” (in 2002 or 2003) one of the many unfinished projects the entertainer had worked on. “I had a conversation with Michael about this”, Weisner says, whie putting on a taped dialogue he had carried with Jackson. Weisner then expresses his agreement with Jackson's affirmation, then declares: “After this conversation, I contacted Michel Lemire – he is the Deputy General Manager of Cine-Group. He confirmed to me in an email that he and his General Manager were at Neverland and negotiated with Michael. Even the signing of the contract had been confirmed. I spent my time with Michael in Montreal.” He continues: “Our General Manager, Jacques Pettigrew, flew to California where he spent time with Michael and his family. Michael was mainly interested in materializing 3D projects. Hollywood lost its glamour for him and he rather would love to work with people, who cared more about quality than dollars. Afterwards there surfaced those new (and final) allegations against Michael. The projects were in the range of family entertainment and so the climate changed there understandably. Michael left his ranch as we all know and he was located in Bahrain for a certain (period of) time.”