Why I Love the short film for Michael Jackson's "Leave Me Alone"

Leave Me Alone has always been one of my favorite short films. 

To be honest, I notice something new almost every time I see it—and that’s saying a lot because, if there’s something that I do well and often, it’s watching Michael Jackson videos.

“Leave Me Alone” is the only short film that Michael received a Grammy award for and although it is super creative and interesting to watch, I don’t think it gets as much credit as it should.



Michael’s body of work is so extensive and his short films so groundbreaking, that it’s hard to show love to EVERYTHING all at once. But, in trying to satisfy my own curiosity, I have learned a lot about “Leave Me Alone”.  Today I’d like to share some interesting things about the “Leave Me Alone” short film and why I think very fan should watch it more closely.


The SONG

Did you know that the song “Leave Me Alone” was originally a BONUS track?



The song was available exclusively on compact disc when Bad was released (1987). It was track #11 on the Bad album, following “Smooth Criminal”. It was later (and now) available on all forms of release, including digital but, initially could not be found on the vinyl or cassette versions of the album. According to the Michael Jackson official website, “Leave Me Alone” was released internationally as a single on February 13, 1989 and reached the Top 10 in several countries.

It was the eighth single from the Bad album, and the song was written, composed and co-produced by Michael. (The other co-producer was Quincy Jones.)  The album credits also list Michael on solo vocals, background vocals, vocal synthesizer, and both rhythm and vocal arrangements. One thing I admire and love about Michael as an artist, is how involved he was in the creative process. Both the song and short film for “Leave Me Alone” exemplify how hands-on he was, even 20+ years into his successful career.



The song is widely considered to be the first in which he directly addresses the press and tabloid circus that followed his career. Michael spoke about the song in his autobiography, Moonwalk.

"I worked hard on the song, stacking vocals on top of each other like layers of clouds. I'm sending a simple message here: 'Leave Me Alone'. The song is about a relationship between a guy and a girl. But what I'm really saying to people who are bothering me is: 'Leave Me Alone'. - Michael Jackson

For me, I’ve always identified more with the song as one that you’d dedicate to an ex-lover returning from the past. For me, “Leave Me Alone” is fitting for situations like this, as well as its underlying message of Michael no longer being “Mr. Nice Guy” with the press.  I can relate to the lyrics from the perspective of someone who gave their all in a relationship and was taken for granted. Now I’m not a saint but any means but, I’ve been in those shoes before. Haven’t we all? Sometimes you give way too much before realizing that your efforts aren’t appreciated. And once you’re gone and over the situation, your ex comes back into the picture, like the ghost of Christmas past. To me “Leave Me Alone” is the ultimate “don’t want you back (and I’ve got the last laugh)” anthem from Michael and I LOVE IT.


THE MAKING 

Selected as Michael’s 8th best music video by Rolling Stone magazine, “Leave Me Alone” was the only short film for which Michael would receive a Grammy award in the Best Music Video, Short Form category (1990). The official website also notes that the short film won both a Cannes Gold Lion for Best Special Effects in 1989 and a “moonman” at the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Special Effects that same year. It was the seventh of nine total short films from the Bad album.

The concept of the video was to take many of the tabloid rumors and talk about them himself, instead of just laying dormant and being talked about. I first saw it as a part of the movie Moonwalker.

The footage of Michael for “Leave Me Alone” was taken over the course of a 3-day period in December 1987. But the special effects were so intricate and time consuming, that the project took a total of 9 months to complete.



Michael was all shot on 35mm film and then turned into still images to be cut out with X-acto knives and layered for animation. Director Jim Blashfield was interviewed by Rolling Stone in 2014 and revealed just how complicated the process was.

“Each and every bit of it is made up of still images that are stacked on top of one another on a piece of glass. Look in any one scene and look how many different things there are going on, so each one of those had to have its own shoot.” 

He and his team of animators also went out to photograph skies, elements of amusement parks, and the wildlife featured throughout the video (except for Michael’s snake and Bubbles, who were shot along with him).
Source: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/michael-jacksons-20-greatest-videos-the-stories-behind-the-vision-20140624/8-leave-me-alone-1989-0203194

In the short film (which you can see HERE) we are taken into Michael’s trailer, which sits on its own island, surrounded by dark waters. Michael is launched out of it and splashes into the water, resurfacing in a patterned shirt and donning an aviator hat. He is seated in a green, yellow, and red rocketship, similar in design to typical roller coaster carts.  This will be his ride through the tabloid circus that in the video, has been LITERALLY built upon and around him.

Michael, in the tabloids 

Real newspaper pages were used in the beginning scenes through Michael’s trailer, and footage of him singing was later superimposed on top.




You may have seen these photos before but, never knew quite where to place them. They are part of the newspaper singing scenes!

Here are some more that were shot in a similar fashion.






Also, seen in the trailer, is his ride through the animated “Elizabeth Taylor shrine”. It includes real scenes of her from classic films, and well known photos of the stunning actress who was a dear and loyal friend of Michael’s for so many years.

Michael, in the rocket ship 



The scenes in the rocket ship with Michael and Bubbles together, were filmed on a rotating stage, director Blashfield shared with Rolling Stone.





“Bubbles was not a problem. Bubbles, your job here is to crawl all over the rocket ship as it slowly rotates on this thing that you use to shoot car ads. Bubbles, please crawl over from here to here. And then please do not harm the python”. 

I was in Japan in 2011 when many of Michael’s personal collection was on “tour” and were temporarily displayed in the O2 Bubble in London and then soon after, in Tokyo Tower. During this exhibition, I got a chance to see the rocket ship used in the video in real life.

source: Getty Images

Although the rocket, like all other memorabilia, was roped off, I saw it at very close proximity. It was much smaller than I imagined it would ever be.  Growing up, Michael was larger than life to me, an untouchable super hero. I never imagined him being the slender, 5”10 man he really was. But, seeing the rocket ship in person put things into a more realistic perspective. Looking back, I wish I had been able to take my own photos (or was rebellious enough to sneak some)!

In the rocket, Michael navigates through the murky waters of the mainstream media. The “just stop doggin’ me around” lyrics come to life through the reporters and corporate representation in the short film- dogs superimposed onto human bodies. In the darkest part of the video, you might see a rotating brain that opens up to reveal a nose and a scalpel, a direct reference to his plastic surgery.

He also rides through to a “sideshow” of himself, this time dancing with the Elephant Man’s bones.


The Charlie Chaplin style “ball and chain” dance scene was done first live by Michael, and then completed using stop animation for the elephant man's bones.


**Just to give a little bit of background, it was reported in May 1987 that Michael wanted to purchase the remains (bones) of Joseph Merrick, also known as the Elephant Man. As he denied those rumors, the dance off with the bones in “Leave Me Alone” was Michael addressing yet another tabloid rumor, in his own fun way.


For this look, Michael 's style channels Chaplin from the film "The Circus". Michael was a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin's work and this was one of the times where he played homage to one of his faves, in a subtle way. 




Michael, the amusement park

The last thing I'll touch upon is the concept behind the amusement park built on and around Michael. It is based on the book Gulliver's Travels, according to the documentary, Bad 25.


In the book, the main character Gulliver is captured by six inch tall inhabitants of a nearby island, who keep him as prisoner. Gulliver is larger in physical size and strength than the people that captured (Lilliputians) him but he is in reality, normal sized. The Lilliputiansthink of themselves as "normal" and Gulliver as the freak and the giant. They keep him imprisoned because they are curious about him and want to learn more...but the only way to do it is to keep him tied down...

Sound familiar?

Here are some behind the scenes photos of the Gulliver's influenced parts of the video being shot.





A few days ago, Michael's iconic jacket from "Leave Me Alone," photographed above, sold for $112,500 USD.

It is a vintage style jacket that is believed to be an authentic English military uniform. The jacket is lined in white satin and it is still in pristine condition.

The auction for the jacket and lots of other music memorabilia was held at Hard Rock Cafe in New York City on May 20th, through Julien's Auctions. It was was a particularly challenging week for me. I was dealing with lots of travel, work responsibilities, and the loss of my grandfather, who I was extremely close to. The items were on display for a few days earlier that week and I had a date at the cafe, with the intention of being able to see the jacket before dinner. My date by the way, got extra points for humoring me and actually being excited to see the jacket too! To the surprise of both of us, the items were taken down earlier that week.

I was heartbroken.

But, in a crazy turn of events, that to me, was nothing but an intervention of the divine, I ended up having an opportunity that I'll never forget. (AND meeting a new Michael Jackson fan friend too!)

On May 20th, I took the photograph below with a piece of music history, Michael Jackson history, and MY own childhood memories...


A surreal moment for me.

Here are two of my favorite photos of Michael wearing the jacket behind the scenes of the short film.




"Leave Me Alone" is hands down, my favorite short film from the Bad album. It was ahead of its time, with unique special effects, a creative concept, and lots of hidden meaning under the surface. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out BAD 25 to see a few minutes of behind the scenes footage from the video shoot. You can purchase a copy on the official MJ website or HERE on Amazon.

I think as fans, we sometimes get stuck on our favorite eras, albums, or videos from Michael. But opening our minds up to rewatch things we may not have seen for a long time, or never really understood? It's important. It often helps me appreciate Michael in a different way. It's one of the reasons why I rediscovered the short film for "Leave Me Alone" and it's opened my eyes up to just how creatively talented Michael and the team that worked on this project were.
---  


Acknowledgement: Special Thanks to Julien’s Auctions.  (www.julienslive.com)


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5 Groovy Things to know about the Jackson 5 Cartoon

When I was in middle school, I really gravitated to everything Jackson 5. I would collect old copies of RIGHT ON! and EBONY magazines, would hang posters of the brothers in my room. I was (and still am) enamored with the 1970’s but also, loved to see how much fun they appeared to have performing as a family. And let’s be real, the Jackson brothers looked like me, they were my age, and I related to their story.

The Jackson 5ive cartoon is one of those things that I LOVED growing up.


It originally ran as part of ABC’s Saturday Morning cartoon lineup in the 1970s but, I was fortunate enough to catch reruns on BET in the 90s. Like most people, I never really knew or understood the significance of the Jackson 5ive series.

It deserves way more attention than it gets. The Jackson 5ive series is significant to Michael Jackson’s history, the Jacksons’ family history, animation history, and black history. When the series was released on DVD in 2013, I did a very brief review that you can read here. But, today I want to dig a little deeper and introduce you to 5 GROOVY Things to know about the Jackson 5ive Cartoon.


 Let’s get on into it!




1. The Jackson 5ive was one of the first animated series featuring positive African-American characters. 


During the black power movement of the 1970’s, there was an emergence of several animated series with non-stereotypical black characters, including Fat Albert and the Harlem Globetrotters. The Jackson 5ive series was one of the first of these, premiering on September 11, 1971. The series premiered at the height of fame for the group and was part of an outstanding lineup of Saturday morning cartoons. Saturday morning programming on three major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS included memorable classics like “The New Pink Panther Show,” “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?,” and my personal favorites, “Help… It’s the Hair Bear Bunch” and “Josie and the Pussycats”.

To backtrack just a few decades earlier, the 1930s and 1940s have long been considered the “Golden Age of Animation”. However, its an era also known for its racist depictions of minorities in many animated shorts. From Warner Brothers to Disney, the look and behavior of black characters was all too similar and consistent among animation studios to be coincidental. Those also portrayed in a negative light includes Native Americans and Asians, just to name a few. But to my original point, stereotypical black characters were the norm for decades.




Blacks were largely portrayed as lazy, fat, immoral and sly.
Emphasis was put on their natural ability to “sing and dance” for an audience. This behavior is what many now refer to as the “shuck and jive,” a set of actions or behaviors that blacks might do to be accepted by mainstream, in the hopes of avoiding criticism. But after WWII and thanks to the protests of civil rights groups, those types of stereotypical caricatures were phased out in the early 1960’s.

Some might say that the Jackson 5ive series was free of racist stereotypes and political innuendos. But to me, its existence and success was a political statement in and of itself. 

The show featured black characters in title roles pivotal to the main plot, not just as supporting cast. Their afros were a symbol of black pride and the Jacksons represented a positive black family in mainstream media.



Just as they were in the music industry, they were stars of their own show, standing tall in the forefront.


The Jackson 5ive series finally brought positive imagery of a black family in animated form, to national television. How's THAT for breaking barriers?


2. None of the original Jackson 5 voices were used for their characters. 


This is something I have seen widely debated on the internet (and I am not sure why because frankly, anyone familiar with the Jackson 5 speaking voices could probably guess this easily) BUT, none of the brothers original voices were used for the cartoon.  Apart from the songs used in each episode, voice actors were used to play all five of them. But here’s a fun fact- Diana Ross provided the voice for her character when she appeared in the first episode.



The actor who voiced Michael in the Jackson 5ive series, Donald "Don" Fullilove,  went on to continue his career, most notably playing Mayor Goldie Wilson in Back to the Future.

Donald Fullilove in Back to the Future.



Last thing I came across that brought out the 70’s nerd in me? The voice actor for Marlon was Edmund Sylvers, the lead singer for another family-based musical group of the 70s, The Sylvers. The Sylvers saw a rise in popularity after the Jackson 5 but, they were still also one of the 70s most popular acts.


If any of you are into 70s soul like I am, I recommend songs like “Hotline,” “Boogie Fever” or “Misdemeanor” by Foster Sylvers (one of the members who went solo)- they are great tracks and have a Jacksons feel.

Although the Jacksons' voices were not used for their cartoon characters, they were used on Alphabits commercials that aired during the shows when they first aired on ABC. Here's a link to check out two of those in pretty good quality.


3. Michael LOVED being a cartoon! 




Michael talked about the Jackson 5ive series in his 1988 autobiography, “Moonwalk”.

“I was already a devoted fan of film and animation by the time ‘The Jackson 5ive’ Saturday morning cartoon show started appearing over network television in 1971… I loved being a cartoon. It was so much fun to get up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons and look forward to seeing ourselves on the screen. It was like a fantasy come true for all of us”- Michael Jackson.


I think it’s important to note that the Jackson 5 actually had very LITTLE involvement in the development of the cartoon. It was of course, starring them and featuring their songs but, I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael and his brothers were watching each episode for the first time with the rest of kids across the country. The Jackson 5 had a demanding schedule and between recording, touring, appearances, and more- it was decided that they would use voice actors for the episodes.

Marlon Jackson however, has further discussed the cartoon series and shared how the animators were able to capture their individual characters, despite using different voices.



“Michael and I used to watch the Jackson 5 cartoon series, it was funny and touching to see ourselves in a cartoon. It wasn’t simply a drawing of 5 brothers looking like us, people actually came to rehearsals and interviews to make sure the cartoon reflects each of our personalities, how we used to talk to each other, what we used to do, what we loved to do, they really tried to make the cartoon close to ourselves, and to reality. One of the details that I loved is that they made my hair brown and not black, and it’s not a mistake my hair is actually not dark like my brothers.

-Marlon Jackson


note Marlon's hair color!


4. The production team for the Jackson 5ive series also produced several seasonal television specials in stop animation, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.



The Jackson 5ive series was co-produced by Rankin/Bass Productions and Motown Productions (a company established by Berry Gordy to produce television specials and films for Motown stars). If you’ve ever seen one of those famous stop animation specials around Christmastime, you have seen the work of Rankin/Bass! 



Rankin/Bass also went on to produce a 17 episode animated series for the Osmonds, entitled The Osmonds, in 1972. 


The show was scheduled directly after the Jackson 5ive show during the Fall of 1972 and Spring 1973 lineup.  Here is a cool television promo spot for both shows (link).


5. The animation director Robert Balser insisted that the series not contain any violence. 


Bob Balser, an animator that also worked on the Beatles cartoon “The Yellow Submarine,”  was hired out of London to work on the series. When he spoke to CNN in 2013, he shared how important it was for him to not include any violence or stereotyping. 

Here’s an excerpt from that article: 

"When I came in," explained Balser, "the series had been started. I was not happy with the approach they were doing because ... (this) was going to be the first series directed at young people that was about a black group, and I felt that it was really important that it be shown in a creative way, that they solved their problems with music and with intelligence and not with violence -- which had started out as the approach in the first episode."
(Source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/30/showbiz/jackson-5ive/)

I loved reading this, as the brothers solving problems with music was one of the things I loved most about the series as a kid. I learned so many of my favorite Jackson 5 songs from the animated series, as each episode included two Jackson 5 songs as part of the storyline.



The series ran for a total of 2 seasons and 23 episodes, the last new episode airing on October 14, 1972. It has been rumored that Motown only contracted for that many episodes to begin with. (The show was not cancelled due to ratings).  If I had to choose, my favorite episodes are the ones I remember seeing as a child, "Bongo, Baby, Bongo"  and "Cinderjackson". I also find myself watching Episode 22 quite often, "Jackson and the Beanstalk" but, that's mostly because the songs in this episode are two of my faves. I won't spoil the surprise...  

Check out the Jackson 5ive Animated series on DVD for yourself. 



It's on amazon.com for less than $30 and to me, it's worth every penny! The series is a great way to introduce yourself to Michael's music from the Motown era of his career.

To be honest, I have a whole lot more to share about the Jackson 5ive animated series that I wasn't able to fit here. I promise that I will be back to continue this list and some additional fun facts about this time in Michael's career sometime soon. 

Thanks for reading and until next time...


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Goin' Places- The Michael Jackson HIStory Statue at Mandalay Bay

Things have been crazy lately. Insane. 

I've had a hectic schedule and I've only been able to sleep in my own bed for 10 nights this past month. (10 nights!) There is one more trip before I can take a couple of weeks to myself. But, before I do that... I'm turning another year older!

My birthday is next weekend and I am excited for it. I've never been one to do much celebrating but, as I've matured, I realize that all that really matters to me is being around people I love. Or just doing things I enjoy. I will definitely be sharing lots about my special day because it's going to be full of Michael Jackson and fun.


Anyway... back to business!

Lots of travel also means new installments in the Goin' Places series here on mjfangirl. All posts under this label will be about MJ related trips I've taken around the country (and sometimes elsewhere). Let's take it to one of my favorite destinations in the world...


LAS VEGAS.

I've been to Vegas a number of times but, a few weeks ago I got the chance to visit Mandalay Bay and see the HIStory statue in person. It was larger than I'd expected and way more detailed than I could've imagined. 

details!

Every Michael Jackson fan has that special montage or promo clip that stands out to them.

For me it's pretty much all of them... (who am I kidding, right?)  But seriously, I've always been really into the History teaser. It features fans, Michael walking with a military behind him, lots of drama, and the unveiling of the history statue. If you haven't seen it, let me provide you with some context before we get into the nitty gritty. (Click here to watch in a new tab).

One of the things about Las Vegas, is they have a pretty interesting collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia in the Mandalay Bay hotel. I talked about this and included some photos in my blog post about the Michael Jackson One show (also at the hotel) here. The items they have on loan from the Michael Jackson estate are truly special pieces.

I have always really enjoyed seeing memorabilia because it reminds me that Michael was a real person. Even as a fan, I think sometimes, it's easy to lose sense of who Michael was as a "person" and not a "personality".

While Michael was still living I was always yearning to learn as much as I could about Michael the person. I've always been so curious about the man behind the music.  It's harder now to get a sense of that from anything apart from listening to the songs and watching the short films but, seeing Michael Jackson's sequined jackets, his shoes, handwritten notes... they all remind me that he was really here. That he was really REAL.




The statue is in the lobby of Mandalay Bay hotel, right by the check-in counter.


For fans, the experience will be surreal.
It was for me, even though the History statue was never something I was interested in seeing before. I guess I'd always accepted that it was just one of those things I would have to try and get a glimpse of someday...  but, never really thought it would happen.

The moment I saw the statue, it took my breath away.
All of the photos here are ones I personally took during my visit (on two separate occasions, during the day and again at dusk.)




The Michael Jackson History Statue is a focal point in the space it's in, standing tall on top of its own platform and boasting its own seating area.

Also, the digital screens that play a continuous loop of music video selections from the History album.

I sat at a nearby table and couch and watched how some of the people passing through reacted to the statue. I was close enough to hear the music and reactions as people walked up to (or past) it. I only saw one person in about an hour and a half actually pose for a photo in front of it.



One of my friends remarked when she saw it, "I wish it was more accurate". Obviously she was not familiar with the statue or the album cover it graces. I share her reaction because I think it may be the norm for the general tourist in and out of that hotel. Since the HIStory statue isn't something super well-known to the casual Michael Jackson fan, I think a lot of people just look at it and don't pay it much mind. But, again- that was just my observation from my 90 minutes there. Although the screens play "Earth Song" "TDCAU" and some other short films from the album, I would love to see the HIStory teaser as a part of the reel as well. I think it would give a little more background for people really looking to understand it.

One of the things that I DO love about the placement and set-up, is that there are lots of seats in the area. I am a firm believer that Michael's art is something that needs to be consistently talked about and shared. I'm glad that the thousands of people that walk through the lobby each day, will get to hear songs from one of Michael's most personal albums, even if just as background music.


Here are some quick tips on visiting the Michael Jackson statue next time you're in Sin City:


1. Bring a friend. It's really hard to document how large the statue is without someone to take your photograph in front of it. I unfortunately was there alone the first time I went and had to do a selfie but, couldn't capture it well enough to do the statue justice. 

first attempt at a photo 


But second time's a charm!





Which leads into my next piece of advice...


2. See it at night too! The statue is under moving spotlights that give the illusion similar to that of the History album cover (see below).




But this looks MUCH cooler after the sun sets.

Sure, it was difficult for me to see the facial feature detail after dark but, I recommend seeing it both during the day and at night. Especially because at night, the music playing on it is much much louder and the ambiance is just different!


Thanks for reading and stay tuned for lots more updates from the West Coast (totally throwing out hints here)!


Just a reminder to you guys, I update in real-time when I visit someplace Michael Jackson related. Updates usually happen on both my Instagram and Twitter (in that order of priority) so be sure to follow me @mjfangirlblog ! And if you ever visit any of these cool places that I've featured, tag me and use my hashtag #MJFANGIRL - I'm always checking it! :)

Until next time…


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