Monday, 5 September 2011

WS - Deconstruction 11 - Black Or White - Michael Jackson

Artist - Michael Jackson
Song Title - Black Or White
Year - 1991
Genre - Dance Pop
Director - John Landis

Michael Jackson is one of the most controversial, yet popular figures in the whole music industry, and his videos are know for being unusual, interesting and in some cases, having unusually high budgets for Music Videos.

'Black Or White' had a budget of $1,500,000, which put's the video at #20 on the most expensive music videos list. Jackson also has another two videos in the top 20, 'Bad' and 'Scream', with 'Scream' being the most expensive Music Video ever. This shows the importance, as well as the power of Michael Jackson in the Music and Music Video industries.

There are two main parts to the music video. The first part is at the beginning of the video and lasts until 1.47. This part of the video is Narrative based and is extended from the original track for the video. The second part of the video lasts from that point until the end of the video, and is more performance based as well as having some Concept aspects to it. The second part includes footage and shots from scenes around the world, with people from different culture's and places dancing with Jackson. There is also a part of the video where people's heads are morphed together and they are lip-synching, which I will discuss later.

The first part of the video includes three well known actors in Tess Harper, George Wendt, and a then ten-year-old Macaulay Culkin, who had already starred in a film, Home Alone. Culkin's character is playing his music loudly in his bedroom, annoying his father (Wendt) who is trying to watch baseball on the Television and shouts for him to turn it off. When he gets no response he goes upstairs to shout at the young boy, before slamming the door shut and smashing a framed picture of Michael Jackson that was hanging on the back of the door. The boy gets his own back by setting up large speakers behind his father's chair in the downstair's room and switching the volume up to 'Are You Nuts!?!'. He then plays the instrument, shattering the windows in the house and sending his father flying out through the roof still in his seat.

Important things to note from the first section include:
  • Although the first shot lasts 29 seconds, it doesn't get boring. This is because of the panning, movement and speed of the camera. If you want to use a single shot for a long period of time, you need to ensure it isn't boring for the audience.
  • Using three relatively big-name actors shows the influence of Jackson, and the budget of this video.
  • This part is extended from the original song - in the original there were just two voices shouting about what we can now see, this is an extended version from that.
  • The video contradicts common conventions - you would normally expect fast paced shots and cuts, this video however, is more like a film in the way the visuals are on screen (for example, the length of time each shot is on for is more like a film than a music video).
  • When Culkin speaks to the camera at 1.10, it is very much like he does in the film Home Alone, showing intertextuality between the two. This is probably the preferred reading of this shot, although people who haven't seen 'Home Alone' wouldn't pick up on it.

The second part of the video is far longer than the first section. The second section  begins at the start of the actual song and carries on until the end. The big difference, apart from the song now having begun, is that whilst the first section was Narrative based, the video has now become a performance based video, with concept aspects of editing as well. The visuals in the second part generally feature Jackson dancing with people from different cultures and in different settings around the world. The different cultures and people represented include African Hunters, traditional Thai dancers, Plains Native Americans, a woman from India and a group of Russians. The video then proceeds to show Jackson singing and dancing in front of flames (this was filmed using a greenscreen, something more common to film than music video and another example of Jackson's videos moving away from common conventions) declaring "I ain't scared of no sheets; I ain't scared of nobody" in reference to the KKK torch ceremonies. Following this is the rap scene, featuring both Culkin and Jackson, as well as other children. Jackson then begins the final verse stood on what looks like a large sculpted torch. The camera pans out revealing it to be the Statue of Liberty. In the background are iconic landmarks from around the world. The final part of the video is the morphing heads, talked about in the early part of this post. The morphing heads are all lip-synching and singing the words of the song. See the link for an in-depth description of Morphing.

Three frames form a morph from George W. Bush to Arnold Schwarzenegger showing the mid-point between the two extremes

Important things to note from the second performance based part of the video include:
  • Jackson's influence and budget is clear once again, with the equipment (greenscreens), number of extras, settings and special effects used.
  • The amount of extras used would be much more likely to be used in a film than in a Music Video.
  • The video moving away from common conventions is clear again with the green screen and the extras, both would be more common in a film.
  • The video follows to the lyrics to a certain extent, and gives out a message that relates to real life. 
  • The actions of the star of the video (Jackson) represent his real personality - ie. quite eccentric and energetic.

Controversy and Censorship
Below is a quote from the Wiki page, explaining what and why there was controversy about this video:
"Controversy was generated concerning the last four minutes of the original music video. Jackson walks out of the studio as a black panther and then morphs into himself. Then he walks outside to perform some of his most physically complicated dance techniques, in a similar way to "Billie Jean". This part contained sexually suggestive scenes when Jackson starts to grab his crotch and then zips his pants up. In the original version, Jackson is seen smashing windows,destroying a car and causing an inn (called the "Royal Arms") to explode. Jackson later apologized saying that the violent and suggestive behavior was an interpretation of the animal instinct of a black panther, and MTV and other music video networks removed the last four minutes from subsequent broadcasts."

Below is the Official Music Video for 'Black Or White'.

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