More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I believe Moonwalker was one of the VHS tapes that came with my parent’s first VHS machine, after fleeing the superior Betamax format, so I’ve seen this a few times more than may be expected. It might be expected to say, hey, this is weirder than I remembered, but, no, it’s pretty much exactly as weird as I remember, and that’s probably fitting given that this is from the mind of Michael Jackson, whom science has determined to be weird. At best.

I mean, it starts off much as you might expect, with film of a live performance, a very well done collage-style retrospective of his career with the Jackson Five, an an almost impossibly cute recasting of the Bad video with kids, and later the still pretty cool collage-style video for Leave Me Alone. There’s a taste of the strangeness to be fully embraced later between these last two with the extended Speed Demon section, featuring an altogether too long chase sequence around a studio backlot with a cast of claymation grotesqueries, and as much as I’m a sucker for the technique, this is perhaps a bridge too far.

Still, at this point, if it’s gone off the rails slightly, there is at least still the concept of rails present in the first place, which rapidly dissipates in the, what, hour long section where Jackson and his best friends, a group of little children (including a young Sean Lennon), go off into the woods (with hindsight, maximally cringe inducing) only to stumble across Joe Pesci’s underground criminal fascist drug-dealing arachnophile who plans to, I guess, control the world by having them all become addicted to drugs, which then happens instantaneously, for given values of world where world equals deserted studio backlot, but it’s okay because Jackson can transform into a car, and then a robot, and then fly away into space, only to immediately return to Earth. And at some point Smooth Criminal and Come Together get sung.

All of which prompts the question, “what?”, and it does not seem interested in providing any answer. It’s all very strange, and in a way critic-proof because it doesn’t seem to be intended to make any sense or have any meaning beyond some at the time mildly flashy effects work and indulging Michael Jackson’s whims. Which I suppose it does, but that’s no help for us poor schlubs in the audience that just want to see the Smooth Criminal video, which, as you’ll remember, is a 30’s speakeasy inspired piece that in no way fits in with this weird sci-fi dystopia setting of the surrounding framework. What a very strange and sadly quite boring section.

So, where would that leave Moonwalker, under ordinary circumstances? Probably more or less where it is now – much like The Wall, even for the most ardent fan there’s not much in the way of compelling reasons to watch this more than once as an idle curiosity, rather than playing an album. And after his trials for sexual abuse, where our legal department insist I point out he was acquitted? Well, I don’t hate it, but there’s not a huge number of reasons to dig up this piece of the past. Let it go. Let it go.