Why every Michael Jackson fan needs to rewatch the short film for Leave Me Alone (NOW!)

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.


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.


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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