Monday, April 27, 2009

"Black or White" (Complete Panther Version) -- a music video retrospective

For my very first retrospective on a music video from yesteryear, I wanted to do something special. Maybe show a normal person something old with a twist--something rare and glorious. Maybe something that would make you say "holy wow". I searched and searched, and I think I have it. I wanted to start on the right foot. I hope it doesn't set a high bar for the rest. Michael Jackson.

John Landis, the director of arguably the best music video of the 80's ("Thriller"), was tasked again with showing Michael Jackson to the masses in 1991. He knew the pressure was on and he had to go all out. Not only was this video to simultaneously premiere on (America's) MTV and BET, but even FOX was in on the prime time action. (You may remember also seeing "Remember the Time" on CBS in primetime the next year). If you were old enough to remember, you know that MJ was an untouchable star in the late eighties and early nineties.

As for cameos, there are many. Most people could tell you that Macaulay Culkin is the featured actor, but Cheers' own George Wendt, along with Homer and Bart Simpson, Tess Harper, Peggy Lipton and even a young Tyra Banks are part of the complete package. What a motley crew! But actors are one thing--what about content?

There's a good chance you've seen the Culkin intro and the meat of the edited video at some point in your life. Basically, there are 3 parts to the edit: a fed up kid blasting his father through the roof with a loud guitar, Michael cavorting around with lots of ethnic groups/nationalities, and a morphing scene that "blends" a bunch of people's faces into one another. The main theme is racial equality and stuff. There is also a little urban rap segment, but that is really not a big deal. What is the big deal is the last segment of the long unedited version.

The camera cuts the morphing scene, and a melanistic jaguar (black panther) leads us to a vacant street in the night. The jaguar then morphs into a cooler-than-Christ spotlit Michael. What then ensues is unbelievable. It can be best described as: a choreographed solo dance becoming an orgy of violence. I am not kidding, you just have to see the whole thing play out. There is a lot of crotch touching.

Michael begins slamdancing/tapdancing and then goes apeshit on a car and breaks the glass of a nearby store/hotel. Pantherrrrr raaaaage! After a decent amount of fan outrage (for Jackson standards), graffiti was superimposed on an altered version of the video. The windows now read "No More Wetbacks" and "Hitler Lives" (to go with the equality theme, you know). You may be able to hunt down the non-graffiti version, but it is super rare.

I think the seminal rage moment is when Michael reaches into the glass-smashed car, grabs the steering wheel and throws it at a window with the graffito "KKK Rules". The two best parts about this are: the groan when Mike throws the wheel, and the fact that some inner city artist spray-painted anything about the Ku Klux Klan. And that alone is worth the price of admission.

Try to watch it and think only of the video, song, and not the press surrounding the artist (you know, he's turning 51 this year, and his farewell concerts are this summer).

Video facts
Length: 11:15
Director: John Landis
Date: November 1991
Est. Cost: $1.2 million (ref)

I do not wish to bash Michael Jackson in any way here, now or ever. He is a visionary to say the least. I envy his legendary dance skills. But, why did he need a solo dance scene at the end of an already overblown video? That is all I have to say on the subject of "Black or White". I guarantee MJ will appear a few more times before I leave the music videos to another lost soul.

Go buy the HIStory - The Video Greatest Hits DVD and enjoy this gem forever!!!

To submit ideas for Retrospective articles, or to just chat about the obscure and esoteric, contact me here.

>> Check the music video & artist name labels for more posts on music video masterpieces!
[All images are © their respective owners.]

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