So last night, after having a couple of dance offs, some girl enters the dance floor, looks at me like she knows me. I smile back having no idea who I’m smiling at and – boom ( (C) Ronnie Barnhart )- we’re dancing around the floor. After some of this, she stops and asks if I remember her, she said we danced off two months ago. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about a week ago I had about a half-dozen similar situations, or that earlier that evening another handful. She says something like “oh, well, I thought I was special, so…” and the gears start turning, and I say something like “oh, yeah, a little.” Then a dude comes over with a drink for her, and tells her I’m “famous” around here – which is a polite way of saying I’m a regular – and then she promptly sits down with him and begins making out. In my mind, I say to myself to her “now I know why I don’t remember you.”
IT’S THE FALLING IN LOVE
When I was six, my parents were not doing well fiscally, and we (my brother and I) were told we were only going to get three presents for Christmas, one from each member of the family, and none of them all that expensive – I believe the limit was ten dollars. But they made it a game (which was smart) and I was six so I didn’t really care, even though I obviously remember it as something of a scheme. I don’t know what (or if) my brother got me anything, but I remember two gifts more than I remember any other gifts from Christmas. I got a monkey puppet, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller on vinyl. It was until two decades later that I realized that Thriller the song came in the middle of the album, not at the end, because as a kid, how the fuck do you top that? We didn’t have cable, so my best friends described the music video way before I saw it. There’s something to the explained movie that I fear future generations won’t have. I know for many people of my generation that there is the film you have in your mind and the film that is, which led to such films as (for me) Maniac and The Hitcher having something of a mythical quality*. Of course with pop culture such as it was at the time even sans cable I eventually saw Thriller, and rented the video Michael Jackson’s Thriller (with that great making of) at least once or twice. As much as I love the video, I remember my friends acting out the final freeze frame just as vividly.
At the time, I had no sense of the cultural implications of Mr. Jackson’s success, how he was one of the first artists to break the color barrier of pop music, and I was only familiar with his earlier work through pop culture and the snippets of his earlier work on the Thriller video. As my best friend at the time was black, the race thing didn’t really mean much to me. It wasn’t until I was finally over twenty-one and going to clubs that I discovered something that has held for over ten years now, and that’s that people dance to Michael Jackson. A friend of mine who’s a DJ used to call Thriller the “people are sheep” song, but if things were light on the floor, and he wanted to pack it, he’d play it. (I also remember asking DJ Lance Rock -before I knew him – to play Working Day and Night, and he told me that the crowd couldn’t handle a song that intense). Even before his death, dancing to Michael was partly nostalgia, but only partly.
Because of his roots as a child singer, and his relative unsexuality, parents felt Michael Jackson was safe, so I feel like other six-year-olds were getting Michael’s music as well. For me, by the time of 1987’s Bad, I was way more into “Weird Al” Yankovich’s Even Worse (which I owned on cassette). Though I liked the song Bad, Michael had gotten more ballad-y, and tastes change and mutate and Michael was not as cool as he once was to me. But even when Michael was singing about Dirty Diana, if you were a kid, it didn’t necessarily seem sexual (it all depended on your latency period). But with Bad, Michael showed that he was more performer than artist, and unable to produce an output like Prince or Madonna – partly because of his tremendous success – he was going to be judged against Thriller until History (the album) proved that Michael was mostly irrelevant in a post-Nirvana, post-Public Enemy world. Hip Hop and R&B was becoming overly sexualized, and Michael seemed quaint. How could MJ compete with a song like “Freek’N You”? Jackson stopped recording for six years after that, and 2001’s Invincible, while still successful, was showing diminishing returns (Dangerous sold 34 Million copies world wide, History 21, Invincible 13).
Were it not for his freakish death two things would not be possible. One is that people could get over (at least in a weird pop-culture sense) creepy Michael. I wasn’t planning on going out the night of his death, but I was told that my place would be playing Michael all night long, and so I felt the need to represent. And it struck me that it wasn’t until after spending three hours with Jackson’s greatest hits that I felt any sense of loss. It’s weird how three hours of great music can make you forget twenty years of being the weirdest motherfucker in America. The second is that anyone would think to release a concert film about MJ theatrically, much less a not even concert film.
Ah so, the point revealed. Ultimately, Jackson’s death left some people holding the bag, so this concert film This is It is not just a memorial, but a cash grab. It’s too bad they couldn’t cut this together a couple weeks after his death, because pop culture has moved on for most. But -as I’ve essayed – people have an emotional relationship with Michael Jackson, because of who he was, and what he did, and his music. Though the impossible numbers quoted (perhaps suggesting worldwide) of a Fifty Million Dollar Friday will not be made, and with the DVD and Blu-ray announcement forthcoming (the film should be available in stores before the end of the year), it’s going to be an opening weekend picture and out of theaters before Thanksgiving. But money will be made. Because people still remember.
BURN THIS PREDICTION DOWN
Halloween day is a notoriously bad day for Box office business, especially for Horror movies. Adults tend to find better things to do at night. And – especially in Los Angeles – adults love Halloween as much as kids. It’s something about costumes and that it’s non-denominational. It’s an excuse to dress funny and drink heavy.
Still, Paranormal Activity should make some coin and might be able to limp to $100 Million, even with a post Holiday sag and next weekend starting the Holiday season of bigger films. It should be able to get out of the weekend over $80 Million, though. And there’s something fitting about Michael Jackson, whose Thriller will be played on dancefloors on Halloween forever more, winning the weekend.
1. This is It - $24.5 Million
2. Paranormal Activity - $15 Million
3. Law Abiding Citizen – $9 Million
4. Where the Wild Things Are - $7.5 Million
5. Saw VI – $7 Million
If Couples Retreat laps Saw, the franchise may need a reboot. I wouldn’t put it past Lionsgate to remake a five-year-old film. And Sunday, well I’ll be there.
*Holy shit parenthetical, but growing up I saw the world’s biggest scardey-cat when it came to horror movies (except the Nightmare on Elm Street series, perhaps because I started with Part 3), and went with friends to a video store and wussed out on renting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Faces of Death, the latter I still haven’t seen. It wasn’t until I hit college and began to devour movies at the rate of two or three a day that I really made my way through the horror canon. And I came to realize that most horror films aren’t scary. That said, when a film hits my buttons, it can keep me awake. I recently had a nightmare about the idea of Paranormal Activity before seeing it, which did not leave that level of creep out or dread that a film like Don’t Look Now imparts.