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Ghosts: Music/Mixes, BTS, Links, Reviews, Origins, Addams Family, False Allegations, Orchestral Score, Release & Concept Art. (1 Viewer)

d49k

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Hello :) This is a copy of a Reddit post I wrote a few months before Halloween last year. I've been reluctant to share it here because it's written as though the reader doesn't know the full story behind Ghosts and its significance in Michael's discography / videography. Also as a Primer for any fans getting excited for it in the build up to Halloween. Most of the Reddit community seem to be more casual fans so for our community here, this post seems like I'm preaching to the converted, but I hope you enjoy the read and the links to BTS videos and Remixes from the production. 👇

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ghosts.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, I read ‘Did I Scare You? How MJ altered the sensations of racism’. It’s a retrospective review of "GHOSTS" in which Michael's response to his critics is analysed. It’s a great read and very well informed, though some of the comments it made I wasn’t so sure of. The review focused on Michael’s changing face, how he used it for art and it’s connections between Michael and racism. I don’t disagree with the article but I wanted to articulate for myself what I feel about the movie and put it out there.

GHOSTS is my favourite short film. Combined with HIStory: Past, Present & Future Book I, they are a set of artistic works which has been the most autobiographical of Michael's work. I wanted to share everything I know about it with links to behind the scenes, articles, music and information in one place. I wrote this to post on r/MichaelJackson, I’m not a professional writer or music critic, I’m just a fan so forgive me if my style is a bit messy.

I can’t just write about Ghosts, “Is It Scary” and “2 Bad” are part of its DNA. Hell, the whole HIStory album should be included given what “Ghosts” is about, even “Morphine” could be included but this post is a biggie, so I won’t. The story of the feature film: “Michael Jackson’s Ghosts” is a far cry from the title of the movie and the track it lends its name from.
  • Is It Scary origins / Addams Family Values
  • Life Imitates Art
  • Morphine
  • Repurposing “Is It Scary” for Ghosts
  • Ghosts Orchestral Score
  • 2 Bad
  • Is It Scary
  • Ghosts (Song)
  • Ghosts (Production Including Making Of)
  • Release
  • Music & Remixes Links

Is It Scary origins / Addams Family Values

In 1992 Paramount Pictures asked Michael to participate in the movie “Addams Family Values” they (and he) wanted a short film in the style of “Thriller” or “Smooth Criminal” as an insert (or independent short film) to help promote the Addams Family Values.

In 1992, Michael asked horror writer Stephen King to collaborate with him and Mick Garris (then director) to write a screenplay for the short film (with no title at this stage). The two wrote an outline of what eventually became GHOSTS and set on a title of “Is It Scary”. This was to indirectly match the Addams Family Values movie plot while also being autobiographical of Michael’s life. This is around the middle of the Dangerous tour between Tokyo in late 1992 and Bangkok in August 1993. The film was to depict local villagers attempting to exorcise a perceived villain or threat to the community, a theme which loosely runs through the Addams Family Values and prophesied what was to come in Michael’s personal life, after initial shooting began. More Info from AFI Catalog.

There’s a scene in Addams Family Values where Joel screams at a poster of Michael on the wall, another example of Michael being the punchline in jokes across the film industry and it’s a shame because they were using him originally to help promote the movie. More Info.

Filming for “Is It Scary” began in the first half of 1993 at the CBS/MTV studios in LA, the music scenes had not yet been filmed (The song, “Is It Scary” hadn’t been written yet) and Michael had to resume the Dangerous Tour. There are conflicting reports as to whether Michael was falsely accused during the shoot for “Is It Scary” or shortly afterwards when hr resumed the Dangerous tour, which he eventually cancelled.

The most obvious change between the versions are the Mayor. Ken Jenkins (Dr Bob Kelso from Scrubs).

Michael Jackson | Is It Scary 1993 | Unreleased Short Film (Ghosts Early Concept)
  • There are a few versions of this cut online, all low quality unfortunately, but for those who have never seen it, it’s interesting to see the original concept.
RARE MICHAEL JACKSON, Shana Mangatal "IS THIS SCARY" 1993
  • Another version of the video, uploaded by cast member Shana Mangatal. In both these versions, toward the end of the video Wednesday Addams uses the electric chair to ‘play’ with her brothers Pugsley and Pubert Addams. The sound of the electricity in this short scene is similar to the beginning of “Morphine” which was recorded later. I wonder if the two are connected?
Michael Jackson "Ghosts" documentary with Shana Mangatal

This video features clips from both “Is It Scary” and “Ghosts”. There’s more behind the scenes exclusive to “Ghosts” later in this thread.
  • (From the YT description): I filmed Michael Jackson's "Ghosts" with Michael in April 1996. In honour of the 21st Anniversary of filming, I put together this tribute which includes commentary from me about the making of the original 1993 version, "Is This Scary". "GHOSTS" was Michael's baby and he wanted it to be seen by everyone. He was very proud of it.
Michael Jackson VERY RARE Angry from Behind the scenes of Ghosts. (Actually, from “Is It Scary”).
  • (Paraphrased from the linked YT video): In August 1993, I (Shana Mangatal, cast member in both “Is It Scary” and “GHOSTS”) was in the middle of filming. Just before we filmed this scene, Michael learned of allegations against him. Michael was sad, devastated and ANGRY. In a strange twist of fate, in this scene, I and a few of the other actors had to stand on the other side of the camera, and yell names at him like "weirdo" and "freak" and say, "you're scaring our children". Michael could no longer hold his emotions in and he let all of his anger out in this scene. These lines were not in the script. This is one of the last scenes he filmed before he became so sick and distraught that he couldn't continue.

Life Imitates Art

In response to tabloid and press speculation about Michael’s absence from the media and America, Michael Jackson’s lawyer, Bertram Fields released a statement included in this New York Times article in November 1993 stating that Michael was under treatment for addiction to painkillers and "was barely able to function adequately on an intellectual level" but added that this was just temporary.

Mr. Fields laid the blame for Michael’s addiction, in part, to "the rage, humiliation and embarrassment" over [the Jordy Chandler case]. He said it would be foolish to bring Mr. Jackson back to the United States now to help prepare a defines against the civil suit, or to be questioned by the child's lawyer, given Mr. Jackson's condition. This reddit thread from 8 months ago together with the Michael Jackson Allegations website and the Leaving Neverland Q&A episode of the MJCast go into the detail of the allegations.

Clearly, we can see that Michael has been hit hard. Midway through filming “Is It Scary” and performing the Dangerous concerts he is vilified by people who already have bias against him in a bizarre “life Imitates art” freak coincidence. It was during this time that the contract between Paramount and Michael was cancelled. Michael also cancelled the remaining dates of his Dangerous tour. News reports at the time were focused on his presumed guilt, the failure to his fans and the money he lost. I have only ever seen one article written at the time in support of Michael, written for GQ magazine in October 1994 8 months before HIStory was released. A copy is available here. Michael was understandably at an all-time low, I’ve never read anywhere that he got depressed but alas, he medicated himself using painkillers. I don’t blame him, do you?

Morphine

A Quick note about “Morphine”: It was written and produced exclusively by MJ. Michael was more hands on for this track and played percussion, drums and guitar along with all lead and backing vocals. This is Michael Jackson without other producers or arrangers influencing the track. “Morphine” was going to be the lead single from Blood on The Dance Floor but Sony decided on the title track from the album instead. (Later for Invincible, Sony disallowed Michael’s choice of lead single favouring You Rock My World instead of Unbreakable). It’s tragic that a lot of people have not even heard of “Morphine”, not only is it another great MJ Vs Slash rock track, it’s Michael at his most vulnerable, “Morphine” is a cry for help which ultimately went unnoticed and unanswered.

Repurposing “Is It Scary” for Ghosts

With the project for “Is It Scary” now scrapped; Michael was free to continue his work. Deciding to rework a cancelled compilation entitled Decade 1980-1990 (it was scrapped in favour of Dangerous) and incorporating new songs, the resulting album became HIStory: Past, Present & Future Book I. (I could write pages about the HIStory album, it’s one of the most iconic concept albums ever created, a musical autobiography and a work of genius by a genius)!

To focus again on “Ghosts”, we need to skip forward to late 1995 after the HIStory album was recorded was released. Michael took control over the “Is It Scary” project and decided to use “2 Bad” since the lyrics are coherent with the movies theme. It’s conceivable that Michael had this video in mind when he was writing “2 Bad” in 1994. Michael was producing this short film to promote the HIStory album, before embarking on the HIStory world tour.

It’s possible the movie may have been temporarily renamed to “2 Bad” given that’s the core song of the production and the ID tags for the cast and clapper boards during production feature “2 Bad” instead of “Is It Scary” or “Ghosts”. Sony asked Michael during the production of Ghosts (Movie) for a new album. That ultimately became Blood On The Dance Floor, the best selling remix album of all time.

Working with Stan Winston in early 1996, the original script changed, and Michael would play several incarnations of himself ‘demonised’, (Hello Thriller 1996)! as well as the antagonist, who happens to be the modelled on Clarence Strider, a racist sheriff who allowed the escape of justice after the gasification of 14-year-old black boy Emmett Till. The cause of the lynch was the accusation of a white shop assistant who said the boy had bothered her during the purchase. Emmet Till was then brutally beaten, maimed, shot and thrown into the river by the assistant's husband and his half-brother. The murderers were not punished by the court, a jury consisting of only white men liberated them. They later confessed to the act. Like the saleswoman, she admitted that her testimony was not true. (Link for more info). (I had always assumed the mayor was modeled on the same demographic as Tom Sneddon.

Ghosts Orchestral Score

The dance routines were choreographed by Michael and LaVelle Smith and Timothy Earl Soloman to the original score of Ghosts by Nicolas Pike mixed with “2 Bad”. (Nicholas Pike at Discogs).

MJVibe Interviewed Nicolas Pike in 1995 about the orchestra for Ghosts in 2015. Available here.

Continued 👇

 

d49k

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Messages
76

2 Bad

The version of “2 Bad” which features on GHOSTS is reworked, funkier, groovier and it’s a hard hitting, aggressive, ‘fluff the dust off your shoulder’ dance routine is just as livid as it’s angry lyrics.

“2 Bad’s” lyrics deal with themes of alienation and judgement. the song confronts his accusers, his gritty voice raises its volume and declares “You’re disgustin’ me” This is in direct response to people who have harmed him, people who have extorted money from him. Michael is angry, probably more angry than he was in “Scream” but that anger beautifully expresses confidence in his ability to recover from people who have conspired against him in the past.

A few days ago, u/Starfire asked “What aspect of MJ's life are you abnormally obsessed with?” and I’d have to say how autobiographical he is in his music and his attitude, full of self-confidence with it, “2 Bad” for instance proclaims “too bad, you tried I won’t back down”.

The Run-DMC sample at the beginning is interesting and extremely important. Between the Bad and Dangerous albums, Michael invited Run-DMC to collaborate with him for a track called “Crack Kills”, they rudely declined. They even use semiotics in their music video for King of Rock to denounce Michael, symbolically stamping on Michael’s sequined glove from Billie Jean. They didn’t create this anti-Michael movement but they were following what was unfortunately becoming the mainstream opinion about Michael at the time, criticizing him for his looks and eccentricities instead of enjoying the work he did. It was the end of making fun out of Michael but it was the start of him becoming demonised by the press and ridiculed by the the public. Something which didn’t end until he announced his final curtain call, “This Is It”. (Run-DMC later regret never working with him).

So what did Michael do? Use the first lines of lyrics from King of Rock as the first lines in “2 Bad” an awesome ‘f*ck You song’ in its own right but in Ghosts, Michael plays himself and parodies of these demons he is falsely accused of.

Of all the lyrics within “2 Bad”, of all the lyrics in the HIStory album, of all the lyrics he has ever performed...

“I’m Standing Though You’re Kicking Me”

...is one of the most profoundly autobiographical, ironic and iconic statements across his music.

“2 Bad” was written by Michael, Dallas Austin, Bruce Swedien, René Moore, and Shaquille O’Neal (he wrote the Rap, Michael and Shaq knew each other casually). It was produced by Michael, Bruce Swedien, René Moore, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis at The Hit Factory in New York 1994. It was the third time Michael has collaborated with basketball stars (Michael Jordan on Jam and Magic Johnson on Remember The Time) proving once again that “♫ It Ain’t Too Ah-Much For Me To Jam!”.

After a gruelling dance routine, set to music which was modified on set so Michael could ‘feel it’ the song gives way to “Is It Scary”. (Similar music for this dance break is linked below).

Is It Scary

“Is It Scary” was written and recorded by Michael, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis between 1993/4 and recorded at Flyte Tyme Studios, Minnesota and Larrabee Studios, LA. Notably after the story for what became the Ghosts film. The lyrics for “Is It Scary” are based in part on the screenplay for Ghosts, Michael’s autobiographical story, an unwelcome eccentric man. The movie and song are symbiotic, considering the movie was conceptualised before the false allegations emerged and the song was finished afterwards, Michael sings “I'm gonna be exactly what you want to see, It's you who's haunting me” and “And if you want to see eccentricities, I'll be grotesque before your eyes. Let them all materialize! Is that scary for you”?

Michael is referencing himself as the victim, he is essentially saying “you will see what you want to see, you’ve already made up your mind”. It’s not the first time Michael has sung about himself as the victim. “They Don’t Care About Us” features the lines “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me. Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me”

On June 15, 1995, a day before the release of HIStory, The New York Times reported that "They Don't Care About Us" contained racist and anti-Semitic content. Michael responded directly stating:
"The idea that these lyrics could be deemed objectionable is extremely hurtful to me, and misleading. The song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems. I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking. It is about the injustices to young people and how the system can wrongfully accuse them. I am angry and outraged that I could be so misinterpreted."
— Michael Jackson 1995.
Michael has sung about his oppressors and the press before, “Leave Me Alone” is cry for privacy, “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” questions why him and not society, “Scream” is about… (read this instead) and “Tabloid Junkie” (well, that one condemns us all doesn’t it)? “Is It Scary” turns the tables, an anthem just as powerful as Earth Song or Man In The Mirror. Michael Jackson, the philanthropist and humanitarian the boy who the world watch grow up and young fans are STILL finding excellence in his work two decades after his final album. A man who has given up time and money to help children all over the world, a man now signing for his own justice, a man literally screaming at the top of his voice “I'm tired of being abused, you know you're scaring me too, I see the evil is you!”

And what is there to fear? Absolutely nothing. In the movie, after this track we’re treated to some funky instrumentals, taken from “2 Bad” that would make even Prince gasp and yet another dance breakdown. Michael isn’t present during this one but he doesn’t need to be. It is SIGNATURE Michael Jackson.

At the end of this scene, Michael as the ghoul, inhabits the body of the Mayor and uses him, his image and humiliates him In front of the towns people which is exactly what has happened to Michael. The entire theme of this movie is about Michael being persecuted, not only by Tom Sneddon but the wider public at large. The most humiliating point for Michael by this time was the strip search by LAPD two years earlier in December 1993. Michael released a public statement two days after stating that “it was the most humiliating ordeal of my life”. Michael, as an extremely artistic but also playful in nature, teases his accuser by trolling him in a dance short, then shining a mirror right back at him asking “Who’s the freak now”?

Michael Jackson, a KING, takes a bow.

In the last few minutes of the movie, Michael asks the crowd if he should he stay or not? He’s won them over already, they can see his point, but the mayor is insistent, the freak doesn’t belong here. Michael gives him what he wants, a self-destructive blow to the floor, turning to dust. There’s a look of shock and horror on the town’s folk, maybe even regret that they misjudged him. Guilt perhaps that they were the ones to instigate what appears to be a suicide right in front of them.

In the original version from 1993, this scene has the kids attempt to put him back together again, in Ghosts, his (ashes?) are blown away. Saddened, the crowd start to leave, and the movie takes a quick twist from sadness to humour. Michael is well documented to be a practical joker and he instilled his personality yet again as Michael appears larger than life in the doorway of the exit. The mayor scared out of his wits runs for the window and jumps out, the music and shape of the break in the glass has a humorous theme. Michael asked at the start this confrontation, whoever gets scared first, must leave. Well my friends, Michael had the last laugh.

As the credits roll, we’re treated to around 5 minutes of behind the scenes footage featuring the makeup changes and CGI featured in the film. The title track begins and it’s a slightly different version from the remastered version for Blood on The Dance Floor.

Ghosts (song)

Michael and Teddy Riley wrote “Family Thing” together in 1993 for the Addams Family / Is It Scary movies but they stopped production when the “Is It Scary” movie was shelved. No longer tied to the movie, a new song was created.

“Ghosts” was written by Michael and Teddy at the Hit Factory, NY & Record Plant Studios and Ocean Way Recording between 1994-1997, it was also intended for inclusion on the HIStory album (It was replaced with “2 Bad” instead). There’s a 1996 version of Ghosts with constant bass running through the track while a remaster doesn’t include the extra bassline. (Links below). Some of the information I’ve read about Ghosts suggests that the chorus is a logical continuation to “Who Is It” but I can’t see that myself, can you?

Ghosts (Production Including Making Of)

Stan Winson (director) was recommended to Michael by Mick Garris, (the original director). Michael called Stan personally to ask if he might consider directing the film and Stan agreed with only one condition: that Michael would play all the lead roles.

“I wanted Michael to play the haunted house guy," said Winston, "but also the mayor of the town, and an evil demon who comes in at one point. Michael wanted badly to be accepted as an actor, as something more than the King of Pop. But it was so difficult for people to get past Michael’s persona, I thought that the only way he would be accepted as a real actor was if he played all these parts, disguised in makeup, so that no one would know it was him until the end. And he was very agreeable to that idea.” GHOSTS Behind The Scenes at Stan Winston School.

Artist Paul Mejias was the sculptor for the model work on Michael’s various costumes.
Concept Art for Michael pulling ‘his’ skin and smashing ‘his’ skull. From makeup artist Miles Tevas. (Apart from Michael’s music and dancing, the scenes where he’s disfiguring himself in Ghosts have got to be the best across this short film catalogue).

VH1 released a 20-minute documentary The Making of Michael Jackson’s Ghosts right before Halloween in October 2002. It features the making of, with behind the scenes material and the detail of some of the cinematic illusions behind the production as well as interviews with the cast and crew including Michael.
The next link contains rolling camera outtakes with audio from the final cut placed over the top to add context. It’s another peek inside the production of the movie.
In the next video, the motion capture for the ‘Skeleton Dance’ is documented.
Ghosts held the Guinness world record for the longest music video. (Pharrell Williams holds that now with his 24-hour music video “Happy”. (How did Jon Beattie shoot Pharrell’s “24 Hours of Happy”?)

Release

Ghosts was premiered for the first time at the 50th Cannes Film festival on 8th May, 1997. Here’s footage of Michael arriving for the premier.

In December 1997, at the end of promoting Blood on the Dance Floor, a Deluxe Collector Box Set of Ghosts was released. It featured a VHS of Ghosts, Blood on the Dance Floor album and “On The Line” Limited Edition Minimax CD. I bought the Deluxe Box Set myself on the day it came out from a Virgin Records Store. Sadly, I don’t it any more but it was awesome to hold a massive programme with great glossy photos. Here’s an Unboxing of the Deluxe Collector Set.

And the TV advert. Michael Jackson - Ghosts Box Set French TV Commercial HD

Music & Remixes

2 Bad​

Is It Scary​

Ghosts​

And of course my very own: Ghosts (Durrson's Restless Soul Remix) which I’m rather fond of :)
Thanks for reading if you’ve got this far. Please post any information you have on Ghosts which isn’t included here and if anything seems to be wrong, let me know so I can correct it.

Bibliography​

 

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