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Griffin - The Thriller Diaries | Vanity Fair

Griffin - The Thriller Diaries | Vanity Fair

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Published by musaeum
Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Thriller” remains the most popular music video of all time: a 14-minute horror spoof that changed the business. Behind the scenes it gave its star a temporary home with director John Landis, sparked a near romance with actress Ola Ray, and revealed how damaged the young pop idol already was.
Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Thriller” remains the most popular music video of all time: a 14-minute horror spoof that changed the business. Behind the scenes it gave its star a temporary home with director John Landis, sparked a near romance with actress Ola Ray, and revealed how damaged the young pop idol already was.

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Published by: musaeum on Jul 31, 2010
Copyright:Public Domain

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6/25/10 1:36 PMThe | Vanity FairPage 1 of 19http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2010/07/michael-jackson-thriller-201007?printable=true&currentPage=all
Michael Jackson in zombie mode.
Photo excerpted from
Michael Jackson: The Making of “Thriller”/Four Days/1983,
by Douglas Kirkland, to be published in November by Filipacchi; © 2010 by Douglas Kirkland.
MUSIC
The “Thriller” Diaries
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Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Thriller” remains the most popular music video of all time: a 14-minutehorror spoof that changed the business. Behind the scenes it gave its star a temporary home withdirector John Landis, sparked a near romance with actress Ola Ray, and revealed how damaged the young pop idol already was.
 Plus:
Read more about the King of Pop in ourMichael Jackson archive,and see moremusic coverage.
BYNANCY GRIFFIN
JULY 2010
 
6/25/10 1:36 PMThe | Vanity FairPage 2 of 19http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2010/07/michael-jackson-thriller-201007?printable=true&currentPage=all
OCTOBER 13, 1983; EIGHT p.m
Downtown Los Angeles.
O
n a chilly autumn night, gaffers rig motion-picture lights around the entrance to the PalaceTheatre, which bears the title “Thriller” on its marquee. A cascade of shrieks—“Michael! Michael!”—drifts on the breeze from a few blocks away, where hundreds of fans strain against  police barricades for a glimpse of their idol. Although everyone involved in the production hasbeen sworn to secrecy, word of tonight’s shoot has leaked and been broadcast on local radio. Security guards patrol the set. Michael Jackson, a shy pixie in a red leather jacket and jeans, stands in shadow in the theater’sentryway, talking with actress Ola Ray and director John Landis. The camera crew is making final preparations for a crane shot that will pan down from the marquee as Jackson and Ray, playing a couple on a date, emerge from the theater. Judging from the saucy looks she is sendinghis way, Ray is clearly besotted by her leading man, who responds by casually throwing an armaround her shoulders. I am on set covering the shoot for 
Life
magazine. Landis says that he needs a “ticket girl” in thebackground and orders me to sit in the booth—a prime spot from which to watch the performances. Just before calling “Action,” Landis fortifies his actors with boisterous encouragement.“How are you going to be in this shot?he shouts.“Wonderful,” Jackson chirps, barely audibly. Seconds later Jackson steps into his nimbus of light, and it is as if he flips on an internal switch:he smiles, he glows, he mesmerizes. Landis executes the long crane shot, then moves in for close-ups and dialogue. “It’s only a movie,” Jackson reassures his date. “You were scared, weren’t you?”  Landis calls for another take and coaxes: “Make it sexy this time.” “How?” asks Jackson.“You know, as if you want to fuck her.” The star flinches and licks his lips uncomfortably, then gazes earnestly into Ray’s eyes. Landis getsthe shot he wants and calls for the next setup, satisfied. He whispers to me, “I bet it will be sexy.” 
The world certainly thought so, and apparently still does. The campy horror-fest with dancingzombies that is “Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” originally conceived as a 14-minute short film, is themost popular and influential music video of all time. In January of this year it was designated anational treasure by the Library of Congress, the first music video to be inducted into the
 
6/25/10 1:36 PMThe | Vanity FairPage 3 of 19http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2010/07/michael-jackson-thriller-201007?printable=true&currentPage=all
National Film Registry.Slide show: Michael Jackson in his own words.Unlike forgotten favorites from MTV’s heyday (Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf,” anyone?),“Thriller” is thriving on YouTube, where one can view, along with the original, scores of “Thriller”dance tutorials and re-enactments by Bollywood actors and Bar Mitzvah celebrants. The dancehas become an annual tribal ritual in major cities around the world, with initiates in ghoulmakeup aping Michael’s moves en masse; the current record for largest dance of the undead is12,937, held by Mexico City. A YouTube 41-million-hit sensation features more than 1,500inmates in a Philippines prison yard executing the funky footwork as part of a rehab programdesigned to “turn dregs into human beings”; the prison, in the city of Cebu, has become a T-shirt-selling tourist attraction.None of this was imaginable back at the Palace Theatre 27 years ago. Jackson then was a naïve,preternaturally gifted 25-year-old “who wanted to be turned into a monster, just for fun,” asLandis recently told me—and had the money to make it happen. “Thriller” marked the mostincandescent moment in Jackson’s life, his apex creatively as well as commercially. He wouldspend the rest of his career trying to surpass it. “In the
Off the Wall/Thrille
era, Michael was in aconstant state of becoming,” says Glen Brunman, then Jackson’s publicist at his record company Epic. “It was all about the music, until it also became about the sales and the awards, andsomething changed forever.”It was the “Thriller” video that pushed Jackson over the top, consolidating his position as the

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