Fever Like I’ve Never, Ever Known

Laura Morgan emerges, blinking, from a Singalong screening of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.

Michael Jackson turns into a robot, to save the world

When I was eleven, I was absolutely certain that one day I would marry Michael Jackson. My walls were covered with pictures of him, from the smiley-faced boy of the 1970s to the beautiful alien he had become by 1987; I listened to his solo albums obsessively, and I knew how to reproduce the graffiti spray of the BAD album cover perfectly. I saved up for weeks to buy Moonwalk, his 1988 autobiography, and felt as though I’d betrayed a solemn promise – reneged on a deal Michael and I had made – when my mother took pity on me and bought me a copy. When my auntie Renee visited from New York and made me a gift of a five-dollar bill, I sent it to Michael Jackson’s fan club and asked them to make me a member, which they did, even though you were supposed to send a money order.

So I think I must have liked Moonwalker the first time I saw it. In fact, I think I went to see it more than once, presumably with additional financial assistance from my parents, whom I now begin to realise were more indulgent than I used to think.

One thing about seeing a movie you used to know well for the first time in twenty-five years is how much of it comes back, unbidden, as you watch. I found I knew not just the songs, but most of the dialogue. I was not alone in this: many audience members happily quoted along with the whole thing, which sounds irritating but wasn’t because, and this is where I betray my eleven-year-old self, Moonwalker is rubbish.

I mean, there’s plenty that isn’t. The effects stand the test of time, and it is a remarkably beautiful film, presumably because in 1987 if Michael Jackson wanted you working on his film, you worked on his film, and so it was made by people who were the best in the business. The 20-minute Smooth Criminal sequence is still perfect, and the scene where Michael dances with an animated rabbit (a cartoon one, I mean; it’s not notably excitable, or not any more than you might expect a dancing rabbit to be) is better than I remember:

But good grief, the story stinks to high heaven. If you haven’t seen it, here is a concise summary: Joe Pesci, as evil villain Mr Big, wants to get all the world’s children addicted to heroin, and only Michael Jackson can stop him, which he does by turning into a robot and then a car. Also, singing and dancing. There, I’ve saved you ninety minutes.

Michael Jackson turns into a car, to save the world
Michael Jackson turns into a car, to save the world

But despite the badness, I wanted to go, partly for nostalgic reasons, partly because I never turn down an opportunity to sing, and partly because I wanted to see if there are still proper MJ fans out there. And you know what? There totally are! We arrived in our civvies and immediately felt underdressed, because most of the rest of the audience had made an effort to dress up Jacko style, with adornments ranging from fedoras and glittery gloves to the full-on white suit and shiny shoes. One lady was wearing a BAD rucksack and I felt immediately and elevenishly jealous.

If you’ve been to one of the Prince Charles Cinema’s Singalong events before, you’ll know that audience participation is very much not restricted to singing. In addition to the quotealongathon going on behind me, there was a lot of whooping, cheering, clapping and “Go Michael!”-ing, and when the movie finished someone shouted out “Again!” and yes, it was silly and ridiculous and ridiculously silly, but somehow I found myself swept up by the relentless, energetic, unironic enthusiasm, and joining in. For a little while I was eleven again and you know what? It was awesome.

Of course, it’s harder to talk about Michael Jackson saving the children of the world these days, and this isn’t the time or the place to go into the complexities of his life and how he turned out the way he did, though I do have a 100% correct theory which I’ll share with you another time, but what’s nice about Moonwalker is that it’s from a time when Michael Jackson was something other than a tragic joke; it catches him at the exact tipping point between being weird but brilliant and being just plain weird, and whatever state he was in behind the scenes, you can see him having fun here. And since fun seems to have been something he never got much of, it’s nice to see.

mj2

This appears to have been a one-off event, so I can’t advise you to go and see it, but to be honest, if you didn’t see it at the time, there is no reason in the world to do so now. But do, if you happen to be in London at the right time, go to the Prince Charles Cinema, for a singalong or otherwise, because it’s the best cinema in London and it deserves your custom.

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