The Moon is Walking

Willa:  You know, Joie, we’ve been chatting for over a year now and still haven’t talked about Moonwalker, Michael Jackson’s only full-length film, which is kind of shocking.

Joie:  It is shocking, isn’t it? And it never even crossed our minds until fairly recently.

Willa:  Well, actually, it’s been in the back of my mind for a while now, just bubbling away, but it just never felt quite ready somehow.

Joie:  I think we were sort of dancing around it because we just weren’t sure which way to come at it, you know?

Willa:  You could be right. There’s so much to talk about, it’s kind of overwhelming!  But this week I was hoping we could begin looking at Moonwalker, and I think a good place to start is its structure.

When Moonwalker first came out it was generally well received, but it was criticized for not having a central plot running through the entire movie. The primary criticism was that it felt like a bunch of videos stuck together, rather than a feature-length film. And it’s true that Moonwalker is structured as a series of short segments. In other words, it’s more like a book of poems than a novel, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a cohesive structure. For example, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is a collection of poems, but it still has a highly complex structure, and so does Moonwalker. However, like Leaves of Grass it’s structured thematically, rather than relying on a central plot.

Joie:  That’s an interesting analogy, Willa – comparing Moonwalker to Leaves of Grass in terms of structure.

Willa:  Well, I just think it’s odd that critics seem to assume every feature-length film has to be structured like a novel. There are a lot of different ways to express ideas and emotions through film – like Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass. It doesn’t have a plot or characters or dialogue, but it still communicates a powerful message – and it does so using a structure that’s appropriate to the ideas and emotions it’s trying to convey.

A useful way to approach this, I think, and begin thinking about the structure of Moonwalker in a different way – not as “lacking” a plot but as striving for something different – is to compare it with The Band Wagon, a 1953 film Michael Jackson loved starring Fred Astaire and directed by Vincente Minnelli (Liza Minnelli’s father). The Band Wagon does have something of a plot, which in a fascinating loop-de-loop way is the story of its own creation, but that plot is really just a device for showcasing the talents of the main character, Tony Hunter. As one of the on-screen playwrights describes it, it has “just enough plot to make him do lots of gay and varied numbers.” Structurally, The Band Wagon is primarily a series of shorts that are related thematically, just like Moonwalker. And in fact, Moonwalker can be interpreted as an artistic response to The Band Wagon, with the individual segments correlating in interesting ways.

Joie:  I know you talk a lot about The Band Wagon in your book, Willa, and I found it all very fascinating. But I’ve never actually seen the whole movie. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it but, I’ve never sat and watched the entire film from start to finish.

Willa:  Oh Joie, you’ve gotta see it!  You know, I hadn’t seen it either before I started working on the book, but I was having a really hard time figuring out what was going on in Smooth Criminal. It’s like I could feel all these contradictory emotions I couldn’t explain and couldn’t understand. So I went looking for clues in The Band Wagon since it was a major inspiration for Smooth Criminal, and that sent me back to Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury. And really, looking at those three together as a progression opened up Smooth Criminal for me in ways I never could have predicted. I see it in a completely different way now that simply wasn’t available to me before.

So you simply have to see The Band Wagon, Joie. It’s really fun – I think you’ll eat it up – and I bet you’ll see lots of connections to Moonwalker. There are so many fun little references like costumes and props and dance moves, and the two films are structured in similar ways as well.

The Band Wagon opens at an auction of some of “Tony Hunter’s Personal Effects, as Used in His Starring Roles.” His iconic cane, top hat, and white gloves (two, not one) are up for sale, but no one is bidding. At his peak, Hunter had a string of hit Broadway musicals and Hollywood films, but he hasn’t had a hit in years and the public has lost interest in him. We then meet Hunter himself as he overhears passengers on a train talk about how “he was good 12 or 15 years ago, but the columnists … say he’s through.”

Finally he arrives in New York, and he’s pleasantly surprised when a flock of reporters gathers in the train station to ask him questions. However, they abandon him as soon as their real target, Ava Gardner, appears. Hunter then breaks into a sad rendition of “By Myself” as he walks quietly through the train station.

The repeated message of these opening scenes is that Hunter was once harassed by his celebrity – by the crush of fans and reporters and photographers that accompanies fame – but ironically, now he’s tormented by their absence. It’s a sure sign that his career is in serious decline, for one thing, and he knows it – and so do the fans and reporters.

Joie:  That’s interesting, Willa. Especially when contrasted with the opening scenes from Moonwalker. The movie opens, of course, with concert footage of Michael performing “Man in the Mirror.” And those concert shots are interspersed with famous, and infamous, shots throughout history with lots of politicians and humanitarians and starving children and such. And we also see lots of shots of fans in the audience screaming and fainting and going nuts as they watch him up on stage.

And then, when the song comes to a close, we suddenly hear various audio clips of scenes throughout his lifetime: being introduced with his brothers as the Jackson 5 on the Ed Sullivan show, a song being announced on the radio, building a shrine to Elizabeth Taylor in his home, being admitted to the hospital when his hair caught fire on the set of the Pepsi commercial, Thriller being listed as the biggest-selling album of all time, becoming the first artist to generate six number one singles off one album. We even hear President Ronald Reagan’s voice commending him on his great success.

And we hear all of this as a camera pans around what is presumably a dressing room or a bedroom and we see sparkly costumes, the sequined glove, old home photos and such sitting next to Grammy Awards and MTV Awards, and pictures of him with Diana Ross and Quincy Jones. Even an adorable shot of baby Michael sitting on a couch, and the intended message is clear – this life of celebrity, fame and music is all this person has ever known. In fact, the very next song we hear is “Music and Me,” a poignant reminder that Michael Jackson and music have indeed been together a very long time.

Willa:  That’s interesting, Joie. I hadn’t thought about that quite that way before. I was aware of the focus on his celebrity, but didn’t think about the fact that it spanned so much of his life, beginning in childhood – that “this life of celebrity, fame and music is all this person has ever known,” as you said.

Joie:  It is interesting, isn’t it? It’s almost the exact opposite situation from the one Tony Hunter finds himself in on that train. Michael’s career, though it began a very long time ago, is still in full swing and he’s still harassed with the ‘crush of fans and reporters and photographers that accompanies fame,’ as you said earlier.

Willa:  That’s true. So he’s in a very different stage of his career than Tony Hunter, and while The Band Wagon shows us the problems an artist faces when his career is in decline, Moonwalker shows us there are problems when he’s at his peak as well. He explores that more fully in the Speed Demon and Leave Me Alone segments that follow the opening section. We talked about both of those in September – specifically how he’s exploring the complicated issue of fame, and how that’s been a wonderful opportunity for him but a difficult burden as well.

And I’m very interested in what you just said about the opening montage of “famous, and infamous, shots throughout history,” as you put it. By beginning that way, Moonwalker places art in a very different context than The Band Wagon does. It’s implying that this isn’t just about Michael Jackson as a person, entertainer, and cultural icon. There are other issues at stake – issues of global importance that can make a real difference in people’s lives.

Joie:  That’s very true, Willa. And I think perhaps the message here is that music can have a real impact on those issues of global importance. Or maybe that the artist making the music – since he is so connected to his audience – has the power to impact those global issues. Using the power of art as a means of social change.

Willa:  I agree, and of course we know he felt very strongly about the power of art to not only bring people together, but also challenge our perceptions and beliefs and lead us to see things in a different way. So in this section, he’s really raising some important philosophical questions about the function of art. And there’s a direct correlation to that in The Band Wagon also – for example, in its signature number, “That’s Entertainment”:

As we can see very clearly in this clip, the primary issue is high art versus popular art, and as Nina pointed out in a comment a few weeks ago, there were specific historical, cultural, and even political reasons for why that was such an important topic back then:

Film scholar Rick Altman, who wrote a very helpful book (“The American Film Musical”), … writes that one of the social functions of musicals is to articulate some ways by which millions of Americans, many of whom were European immigrants in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s – when the genre was in its heyday – could know themselves AS Americans, and establish a sense of national identity and solidarity. So a number of binary oppositions are set up in the narrative, in order to achieve this. In the “show musical” (a major subgenre), the opposition between “high” and “low” culture is often key to the whole story. Films like “The Band Wagon” set up a contrast – and competition – between forms that emanate from the European classical tradition (like ballet, modern “art” dance, symphony orchestra, string quartet, etc.) vs. things like American popular forms like swing, jazz, pop, and show tunes themselves! In this way, “The Band Wagon” (and even more, “Singin’ in the Rain”) become a kind of advertisement for Hollywood and American show business itself. Of course, good ol’ American knowhow wins out at the end….

So as Nina points out, the “key to the whole story” of The Band Wagon – and many other musicals of that era – is this competition between (American) popular entertainment and (European) high art. Of course, this disconnect between pop art and high art is something Michael Jackson faced as well. His work was misinterpreted and horribly undervalued by critics, I think, because it was seen as “just” entertainment, so they failed to see the artistry of his work.

Joie:  I love that comment from Nina!

Willa:  Isn’t it great?

Joie:  It really does underscore the issue of high art vs. popular, or low, art. And you’re right. Michael Jackson faced this issue constantly during his career and his work was often criticized as being “just” entertainment, or too commercial, if you will. But in Moonwalker – and not just in that opening segment but, throughout the whole film really – he seems to be focusing on using his art to attempt to bring about that change he sings of in “Man in the Mirror.”

Willa:  He really does –  we see that from the opening shots of Moonwalker to the haunting rendition of “The Moon is Walking” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo during the closing credits. He’s much more interested in exploring the cultural functions of art, and how art can be used to effect deep cultural shifts in how we perceive and interact with one another. As you said so well, Joie, “Using the power of art as a means of social change.” We see that idea repeated throughout Moonwalker – for example in “Badder,” which is all about kids using the power of art to stand up to gangs.

Joie:  That is a really interesting section of Moonwalker, Willa. That whole “Badder” section. I think most people really love that part because it’s so not what you expect when the camera pans up from the silver-tipped boots, all the way over the buckles and belts costume, up to the face. It’s a little bit of a shock seeing that cute little boy staring back at you. But the interesting part to me is that they then recreate the entire Bad video using this cast of amazing child dancers.

You know, I’ve always thought it was really cute and fun to watch. But, since talking to you, I have come to realize that almost every artistic thing Michael did, he did it for a specific reason. So that makes me wonder … what is really going on in this “Badder” section? What’s the message or the lesson here?

Willa:  Well, that’s always a complicated question, but one way to approach it is by comparing it with what’s going on in The Band Wagon, because once again there’s a direct correlation. While the “Badder” section of Moonwalker has child actors dressed up as adults, and singing and dancing as adults, the “Triplets” number in The Band Wagon has adult actors dressed up as babies, singing and dancing as babies. But if we look at the lyrics, we see they aren’t really like babies at all:

We do everything alike
We look alike
We dress alike
We walk alike
We talk alike
And what is more
We hate each other very much
We hate our folks …
How I wish I had a gun
A wittle gun
It would be fun
To shoot the other two
And be only one

It’s a funny segment but surprisingly violent, and actually the humor comes from the irony of these little lisping toddlers (“A wittle gun”) harboring such bloody thoughts about their siblings. Here’s a video clip:

So “Triplets” takes a situation we tend to think of as very safe and domestic – three babies in highchairs – injects it with an unexpected note of violence, and explores the comic aspects of that. But of course, by the time Michael Jackson created Moonwalker, the world had changed. Many neighborhoods were erupting in gang violence, children were getting caught in the crossfire, and the idea of children thinking bloody thoughts wasn’t funny any more. So he’s approaching the issue of children and violence in a very different, and much more serious way.

Joie:  I have to say, Willa, it is a little bit startling to me to watch that “Triplets” clip because the words of their little song are so very violent. It’s odd really, and I think that’s because of what you just said. The world was a very different place back when The Band Wagon was made and this kind of joke wasn’t looked at in the same way it is today. Very interesting.

Willa:  It is, isn’t it? There’s a similar relation between “Girl Hunt Ballet” and Smooth Criminal, which are the penultimate numbers of The Band Wagon and Moonwalker. “Girl Hunt Ballet” ends with Fred Astaire’s character shooting and killing the woman he said he wanted to care for and protect, which is pretty shocking. Here’s a video clip.

But what’s really shocking if you stop and think about it is that this number is a comedy – just like the murderous infants in “Triplets.” And again, Michael Jackson reworks that, making it darker, more serious, and more complicated by encouraging us to care about the murdered woman. As he asks over and over again, “Annie, are you ok?”

We could spend a month just talking about the many parallels and contrasts between “Girl Hunt Ballet” and Smooth Criminal, but Nina shared a clip a few weeks ago that highlights some of those connections – not only to Smooth Criminal but also You Rock My World and “Dangerous.” And there’s a subtle reference in Billie Jean as well.

Joie:  That is so interesting, Willa. You know, before we began talking, I never knew that Michael had taken so much inspiration from The Band Wagon before. In fact, I love old movies and musicals but, I never even paid much attention to all the similarities before you started pointing them out to me. And now that you have, it is just fascinating!

Willa:  Isn’t it? It’s so amazing to me how he drew inspiration from so many sources – and not just in a superficial way, but in a way that makes you realize just how knowledgeable and engaged he was with all these different genres. Not long after he died, Kobe Bryant talked a number of times about how Michael Jackson turned him on to classics like Fred Astaire movies and other big Hollywood musicals. Here’s a clip from a press conference:

And when you really look at those movies and compare them to Michael Jackson’s work, you see how deeply they influenced him. Nina has commented about this a number of times – like here when comparing Say, Say, Say to Singing in the Rain.

Joie:  That’s very insightful. I never would have made that comparison before.

Willa:  Oh, I’ve learned a lot from Nina’s comments. You know, she’s a filmmaker and artist (she’s made some really interesting Michael Jackson collages) as well as a professor of film studies, and she just seems to have a wealth of knowledge about filmmaking and film history at her fingertips.

That brings us to the finale of each. The Band Wagon ends with an emotional reprise of “That’s Entertainment.” So the final message of The Band Wagon seems to be that Tony Hunter’s career may have been in decline, but he’s still a star, still a talented entertainer, loved and respected by his peers – and that includes his costar, a classically trained “high art” ballerina who has fallen in love with him. So on several different levels, the finale reinforces the message that entertainment, meaning popular art, reigns supreme over high art.

Joie:  Well, the final message I get from Moonwalker is that popular art, and perhaps music in particular, is universal. It has the capacity to draw people together – people from all walks of life, all nationalities, all races, all ages, and all economic ends of the spectrum. And the final song I think illustrates that message well. It’s Michael’s rendition of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” and it’s perfect. A rock song written by the incomparable Lennon and McCartney and sung to perfection by the biggest entertainer in the world, who just happens to be a Black man. Come together, indeed.

Willa:  That’s interesting, Joie. The title kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

Joie:  You know, it really does. And so does the title “That’s Entertainment.”

Willa:  That’s true! They both summarize the central theme of the film in the title of the last song. How interesting!

And then Moonwalker adds a little lagniappe by giving us Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing “The Moon is Walking” during the final credits. I just love the mood of that song and the way they perform it, and I love the way the background images shift back and forth between scenes from Smooth Criminal and the singers of Ladysmith Black Mambazo in period costumes, as if they were part of Smooth Criminal as well. And I love the repeated refrain, “Come and see, the moon is dancing.” To me it feels like they’re testifying.

You know, Michael Jackson’s character is so connected to the moon in this film (after all, the title is Moonwalker) that, for me personally, that line feels like a testament to the power of art – his art. He probably didn’t mean it that way – he probably just liked the synchronicity of the words “Moonwalker” and “The Moon is Walking.” But that’s what I think of when I hear “Come along, my brother / Come along, my sister / Come and see, the moon is dancing.” They’re testifying to the power of his art.

About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on November 28, 2012, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Another thought provoking blog, well done ladies!

  2. I’m so delighted that you are beginning to address Moonwalker. I’ve read many reviews of it, and the general consensus (at the time) seemed to be that it was nothing more than a “lot of Michael Jackson, which will only appeal to his fans.” A number of reviewers believed that it was superficial fluff. I (and I believe you, as well) would strongly disagree.
    I see a huge theme of transformation, running throughout the movie. I won’t say more here, in case you plan to address that topic in a future entry. But there are many examples of transformation: my favorite is at the end of the Badder segment, when he walks into the tunnel as a boy and walks out as a man.
    Waiting to see what you will do next time…

  3. aldebaranredstar

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post with so many interesting approaches to “Moonwalker.” I saw “The Band Wagon ” ages ago and have to see it again to catch all the cross-references to Michael’s film that you point out.

    One of the things about “Moonwalker” that strikes me is the theme of death and resurrection, a theme we also see in “Ghosts.” Michael is pursued and hunted by the Joe Pesci character as he was by the Mayor. He transforms into a CAR–wow, where did that come from? And later he becomes an amazing robot out of a sci-fi film like “Forbidden Planet.” However, he is destroyed (seemingly) and the 3 children in the film are all so sad, and then he magically reappears (as he does in ‘Ghosts” as well). I am wondering about this death and rebirth, as it seems to be something important, and certainly has more meaning now that Michael is gone yet still with us somehow, even resurrected from all the damaging lies that were told about him and that destroyed him.

    One of those lies was that he denied his race, and the ending with the beautiful “The Moon Is Walking” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo tells us otherwise. Spike Lee’s film also emphasizes Michael deep connection to Africa– writing “Liberian Girl,” a love song to a beautiful African woman, at a time when no one dared make that a subject for a song, his close friendship with Nelson Mandela, his many trips to Africa, and of course the 60 million he donated from “We Are the World” for famine relief.

    The Moon is Dancing indeed!

    • Hi Midnite Boomer and Aldebaranredstar. I agree that the themes of transformation and rebirth are both very important in Moonwalker, and Ghosts as well.

      I’m intrigued by the scene of the kids from “Badder” walking through the tunnel and emerging as adults, as you mentioned, Midnite Boomer. It’s almost a symbolic birth, and it’s interesting, I think, that they enter the tunnel not just as children but as singers and dancers, and then emerge into a movie studio, so it’s like the birth of a new stage of his career, maybe? He was a singer and dancer (like the kids in “Badder,” and he himself as a member of the Jackson 5) and now he’s emerging as a mature artist, which includes cinema and visual arts as well as music and dance?

      And of course we see this theme of transformation recurring over and over, not only in both of these movies but in his artistic life as well – he was constantly reinventing himself, and seemed to see that as crucial to the life of an artist. It reminds me of an interview with Donny Osmond, where he says he was talking to Michael Jackson about how confined he felt because of his name – that people expected him to sing and perform and be a certain way because he was Donny Osmond. He asked Michael Jackson what he should do, and he told him, “change your name.”

      Aldebaranredstar, one thing that strikes me in the transformations you pointed out is how he’s crossing genres as well, from 30s-style musical to gangster flick to kid’s fantasy / morality tale to science fiction to modern concert film. (As you point out, a robotic car?!! What’s that doing in a gangster movie?) And each of those genres carries specific cultural meanings, which gets back to what Susan Fast was talking about last week. So transformations are happening at many different levels!

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  5. “And I think perhaps the message here is that music can have a real impact on those issues of global importance. Or maybe that the artist making the music – since he is so connected to his audience – has the power to impact those global issues. Using the power of art as a means of social change.” Joie, I think you really knocked it out of the park!

    Moonwalker also reminds me a lot of Captain EO, the idea that music has the power to transform and overcome evil. And both films remind me so much of the story of Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute,” which was considered “low art” in its day. It was thought of as “simply popular” entertainment because of its popular style and blatant commercial objectives. Mozart wanted to write something for the largest audience and the biggest revenues possible, so, supposedly, it could not possibly have “high” artistic value. Personally, I don’t see how one necessarily excludes the other. (wonder if Mozart was writing 100,000,000 on his mirror everyday?)

    I remember reading a lengthy article about Moonwalker a year or so ago (I think, I can’t find it!) in an online animation magazine article that described how the film was made and structured. Michael would come up with ideas and shoot them, then later he would decide exactly how to fit them together (sounds like the recording studio). And MJ would over shoot, (just like he did in the recording studio), which was staggering to the people working on the film. He would spend months and millions of dollars chasing an idea and then decide he didn’t like it and refuse to use it. I remember Bush saying the same thing about his clothing. No matter what an outfit cost, if it didn’t work, he wouldn’t wear it and you always had to keep that in mind. Stories like this are pretty convincing to me that MJ was 100% committed to his art. Like Randy Phillips said, money just didn’t motivate him, but art and changing the world obviously did.

    (^^^Does anyone remember this article I am talking about? Really wish I could read it again! Thought I had it saved to my computer but I don’t.)

    • love your comments about Mozart – for a long while now I have thought as Michael as Mozart in 200 – 300 years time and your comments only reinforce that with so many parallels. Great stuff

    • I hope someone finds this articles and let us know, as I have never read it, and of course would love to.

    • That’s so interesting, Ultravioletrae, comparing Moonwalker and Captain EO with The Magic Flute. I see some parallels right away, especially to Captain EO – like the power of music to change people’s hearts and “transform and overcome evil,” as you point out, and in that way resolve conflicts through imagination, magic, and art rather than violence.

      btw, I just found this full-length production of The Magic Flute on YouTube (isn’t YouTube amazing?):

      I’ll have to watch this with Moonwalker and Captain EO in mind, and see if I see some of the connections you see. The way the protagonist undergoes trials to overthrow an older, powerful, “evil” woman and replace her with a young, gentle (powerless), “good” woman springs to mind right away – and actually that plot has always bothered me about Caption EO, since the first time I saw it at Disney World 30 years ago. (It bothers me for the same reasons that Cinderella and Snow White bother me – that’s a very common plot.) So I’m really intrigued about approaching Captain EO through the lens of The Magic Flute to see if that leads me to see it a different way.

      It’s also interesting that, like Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin, Jane Austen – and Cervantes, as you mention, Mary J – and actually early novelists and filmmakers in general, as well as pioneers in other new art forms like jazz, Mozart was considered to be creating “popular” or “commercial” art with The Magic Flute, but it’s now revered as high art. (Love the image of Mozart writing 100,000,000 on his mirror!)

      btw, I’m with Caro – I’d love to see the article you’re talking about. Let us know if you find it.

  6. While I haven’t finished reading your Moonwalker entry, I felt compelled to stop and comment. There is a literary structure. The episodic or picaresque novel a la Don Quixote is a valid literary choice. The picaresque novel can be traced back to 16th century Spain. Now in Moonwalker, Michael Jackson turns the picaresque novel on its head by having featuring a hero instead of an anti-hero; or does he…

    • aldebaranredstar

      I like this approach to the Moonwalker film as part of the picaresque genre, Mary J. This can also be seen in Captain EO, the space musician. I would like to say, though, that the picaresque is much older than the 16 century; a beautiful and really stunning Latin novel written in the 2nd century is in this genre. It is the only Latin novel to survive complete: Apuleius” Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass. In this book the hero (Lucius) has many adventures and even gets transformed into a donkey, or ass, throughout much of the novel.

      The music was Michael’s primary means of transformation, and when he makes his films, the images reinforce this, but ultimately also incorporate the music as the really key moments of tranformation. I love the ending of Moonwalker, not only the brilliant “Come Together” performance but also the Ladybird Black Mambazo singing.

      • Aldebaranredstar, thanks for your response to my post. I agree with you that “Moonwalker” incorporates the music at the really key moments of transformation. I can’t wait to take a fresh look at “Moonwalker” -especially the ending.

      • Hi Aldebaran

        my American friend Sarah Ruden just published, through Yale, a translation of The Golden Ass last year. She has a wonderful sense of humour and you may enjoy her translation if you can get hold of a copy.

        • aldebaranredstar

          Thanks, Caro, I will look for that translation. Amazing that your friend translated this book, which has been such an important book for me and for so many–it’s one of the most infuential books ever written. I wish I understood Latin better. Apuleius’ prayer to Isis at the end of the novel is one of the most beautiful prayers ever, ever! Lucius makes this prayer to Isis, asking her to release him from his donkey body and make him a man again. I have an edition in which the prayer, and the novel, is in 2 languages–English and Latin.

  7. Well, I read the rest of the blog entry on “Moonwalker;” and I want to thank you for including all of the clips –from “Bandwagon” to Kobe Bryant.

    I would add a couple more points to your analysis:

    1. With your identification of the musical being a sub-genre of film, you could draw parallels between “Bandwagon” and “Moonwalker,” with the picaresque structure being identified as a sub-genre of the novel, by some.

    2. To the discussion of High Art vs Pop Art, I add the concept of True Art. True Art where the artist strives for truth (regardless of high or popular accessibility/manifestation) is the only real ART; and it is the art that changes those who experience it. Michael Jackson’s Art is true art. 🙂

  8. This blog is just one ah ha moment after another, after another, after another………. My internet has been down since I read the blog on Thursday and I have been just dying to read it again and respond, but in the meantime I have watched Moonwalker over again several times to calm my frustration.

    I am not as erudite as many of you fellow bloggers and am not yet sufficiently imbued with Michael (though getting there) to make academic-like comments. But …….. for the longest time I also thought that this film was just a whole comprised of many parts – many wonderful parts of course – but just a disparate group of movies put together.

    If I have learned nothing else from you guys, I have learned that Michael did nothing random, disparate or meaningless, and this blog has just joined all the dots for me big time, and course there is a purpose, a theme and a meaning. Thank you so much for putting it together, and as I have watched it this week, it now has soooooo much more meaning that I am beside myself with it all.

    Just got Michael Bush’s book, and to be able to watch Michael now and know all about the costumes and their origins etc etc etc., it is like watching him all over again for the first time – oh what a blessing it all is, and I am so happy to have my internet back to get this all off my best before I burst with it!!!!!!

  9. aldebaranredstar

    In thinking about the violence in ‘Band Wagon’ and ‘Moonwalker,’ there is a scene where Joe Pesci slaps Katie around a few times. Michael gets upset and tries to go to her defense, saying “leave her alone!” but he is restrained by 2 goons. Then he falls on the ground and gets kicked by Joe Pesci. This is pretty violent, no??

    I am wondering about this scene and how it might be a replay of Michael’s own experiences being beaten as a child or watching his brothers get beaten. I don’t think there is anything like this in Michael’s other video work, is there? It gets pretty close to the bone.

    • Hi Aldebaranredstar, I’ve really pondered that section, too, because it is so violent and because it emphasizes just how powerless he is in that situation. It might draw on his childhood experiences, as you say, but I also think a lot of the violence is a reflection of I, the Jury, which he is rewriting through Moonwalker – and I, the Jury is shockingly violent. I also wonder if it’s demonstrating once again the power of art and imagination by contrasting it with how powerless he is physically. He’s curled on the ground, being kicked by these thugs, as you say, and he can’t possibly defeat them in a macho, Rambo-style way. So he responds through his imagination, and transforms.

      Hmmm. What do you think? I feel like I still don’t really understand this section and need to ponder it some more, but those are some of my thoughts…

  10. Boy have I missed some good stuff here! Amazing comments. Willa, that film of Magic Flute is just out of this world, love it, I am going to make time to watch the whole thing. There is one little thing that reminds me so much of Michael Jackson. At 4:04 in the Overture, you hear 3 repeated chords – short LONG LONG, which is often interpreted as a musical play on the number 3, a sacred number in the Opera (the 3 feminine spirit guides, the 3 flying boys, etc.) and supposedly the sound of the secret knock of the Masons, of which Mozart was a member. We’ve talked before about how MJ does a similar play with the number 1 in BorW, “we’re one in the same” and suddenly all focus is on beat 1, making the music itself a part of the story he tells. Very Mozartean!

    Mary J, I love the concept of True Art, that is so it!

    I finally did find the Moonwalker article I was looking for, from Empire Magazine, Issue 261, March 1, 2011. It’s “The Ego Has Landed” by Alex Godfrey, and as you can guess from the title, the author doesn’t see much in the film other than a MJ vanity piece. However, I thought there was a lot of good information here that proves him wrong. It is available on MJJUnderground here: (you need to register and sign in to view it) or you can view a partial copy of it here:

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