Celebrating the 25th anniversary of 'Thriller'
In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably make a small confession before I begin this post. In 1982, when Michael Jackson released his seminal Thriller, still the bestselling album of all time, I may have been sporting Huggies and sucking on a binky. I know, I know. But lest you think I am ill-equipped to fully enjoy a 25th-anniversary celebration of the epic recording, you’d be mistaken. I’m a huge Thriller fan, and even though neither the King of Pop nor iconic producer Quincy Jones were slated to attend, I was as thrilled (sorry) as a 12-year-old schoolgirl to attend the Tribeca Film Festival event.
I arrived at the venue, a large outdoor plaza overlooking the Hudson River, just in time to see the 12 contestants from Bravo’s Step It Up & Dance (the only Bravo reality show I don’t watch) take the stage in full zombie mode — tattered suits and flower-print dresses, nappy bed head, and garish green face makeup — to do their rendition of “Thriller”‘s infamous dance scene. Though they’re no crew of Filipino prisoners (I did catch a few out-of-sync moments), they mustered a respectable imitation of the living dead.
Step judge and “Thriller” assistant choreographer Vincent Paterson joined the troupe to teach the audience the signature moves, but as I glanced around the nearly vacant press section (which randomly included actor Oliver Platt), I realized I’d be one of the only ones shaking my money maker. I decided I just couldn’t part with my dignity long enough to lurch about like an idiot while the five nearby journalists sat silently judging me. So like a party pooper, I stayed firmly planted in my plastic lawn chair while Paterson and the Step kids demonstrated Zombie Walk #1 (head to shoulder on beats 1, 5, and 7), the Rock (step to side and groove), and Zombie Walk #2 (look left, look right, take three steps to the left). Got it? Now you try!
addCredit(“Thriller dancers; Theo Wargo/WireImage.com”)
We were then treated to the 14-minute-long “Thriller” video, and asthe recognizable hook began pulsing over the PA system I couldn’t helpbut smile and begin tapping my foot to the beat. Shrieks and screamsbegan rising from the crowd while the twenty-something guy sitting nextto me began shimmying. Though a big fan, I’ll admit it’s been a whilesince I sat through the whole mini-movie, and I realized how much I hadnever noticed or had forgotten. Does anyone else remember Jackson’smessage preceding the video? “Due to my strong personal convictions Iwish to stress this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.”Weird. Did they show that part on MTV? It also made me a touchmelancholy to juxtapose this ridiculously great performance with whathas become of the pop icon’s career. I miss the explosive, flamboyantJackson of the ’80s. Pretenders to the throne, like Justin Timberlake,just can’t touch him.
The highlight of my evening, though, had to be the unexpected outburst from “Thriller” director John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Animal House). As the Making of Thrillerdocumentary began rolling, we were unexpectedly bombarded by a gaggleof commercials from the event’s sponsors. Midway through the ads, thedisembodied voice of Landis shrieked over the sound system, “I didn’tknow about the damn commercials! But it’s coming.” Priceless.
The night ended with a zombie disco, which I just didn’t have the energy (or desire) to stay for. But I’m sure Thriller understands. We’re both in the throws of quarter life, and that can be pretty tiring.
Some Thriller factoids:
1) The single was originally called “Starlight Love.”
2) The Making of Thrilleris actually what financed the music video’s production. CBS and Sonythought the record had no more money-making potential, so they refusedto fund it. So the documentary, nicknamed by the cast Making of Filler, was shot along with the video and later sold.
3) Jackson got the idea for the “Thriller” video after watching Landis’ American Werewolf in London.
4) The video took four days to shoot and required 20 makeup artists to transform Jackson and his dancers into the undead.
5)Several crew members make cameos, including makeup artist Rick Bakerand Paterson (who also appears as one of the lead gang members in “BeatIt”).