Armchair analysts will be busy pondering the curiouser and curiouser content of Michael Jackson’s new album, HIStory, with its strains of infantilism, self-deification, rage, and anti-Semitism. All shrinks know that a patient’s past is important, so no consideration of Jackson’s psyche would be complete without exploring the visual record of his obsessions. Michael Jackson Video Greatest Hits — HIStory anthologizes Jackson’s influential preHIStoric small-screen career in all its loopy spectacle. You want neurotic attempts at defensive image-building? Try the predatory street lust of ”The Way You Make Me Feel.” Unrestrained megalomania? The opening fan-mania montage culminates in a virtual Crucifixion pose.
It’s hard to believe these 10 clips (nine can be found on previous compilations) cover only 14 years. Although the videos aren’t arranged chronologically, you can see the production values accelerate quickly from 1979’s unadorned ”Rock With You” to the trilogy from 1982’s Thriller: ”Billie Jean” (which now looks hopelessly low-tech), the stirring gang tale ”Beat It,” and ”Thriller,” director John Landis’ garish homage to crummy horror movies. The clips from 1987’s Bad are just that. ”The Way You Make Me Feel” looks cheap and uninspired; Michael’s flirting seems as natural as his nose. ”Bad” merely redoes ”Beat It” in a subway station.
Once Jackson had gone with ”Thriller” beyond the mere translation of songs to film, he could let his imagination and budgets run free. Director John Singleton turned ”Remember the Time” into a gorgeous ancient Egyptian extravaganza. And although Landis sandwiched his ”Black or White” morphing masterpiece between the irrelevant generation-gap prelude and the gratuitous car-smashing postscript (restored here), he succeeds in putting a multicultural happy face on Jackson’s one-world idealism.
Though the lunatic fringe of ”Scream” and the proto-militarism of the HIStory trailer (neither of which is included) now make the oldies look tame and obvious, the clips featured here were among the best of their era. They also illustrate that, in some ways, HIStory is Jackson repeating himself. B-