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Paul Groot

The thrill of ‘Thriller’ from a nostalgic perspective


He’s had rather a hard time of it lately and so he’s moved to the Arabian peninsula. In fact he has no idea what’s going to happen next. But ‘Thriller’, the LP issued almost twenty years ago, the best long-playing record ever and an artistic tour de force, has not been forgotten by any means. In the clips for Thriller, Michael Jackson, as acrobatically dexterous as he is physically attractive and musically brilliant, depicts the artificial personality that will henceforth haunt him as the musical icon of the 1980s. Invisible forces tremble through “the King of Pop”, this contortionist sliding across the floor. Hip-wiggling Elvis. twisting Chubby Checker and Chick’s static immobility come together in a fantastic, commercial version of the then just invented breakdance.
Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk” represents an essential form of contemporary song & dance. So his music is not out of place here, although of all the musical contributions to Loud & Clear Too it is perhaps the most daring. Breitz and Alex Fahl have deployed Michael Jackson’s light-footed music in a nostalgic trip that is as simple as it is impudent. A real Loud & Clear Too, this karaoke-oriented variation on ‘Thriller’ works as a conscious provocation directed at the arty avant-garde aesthetic. A genuine poppy-low-culture Clear and Loud Too: evidently Breitz & Fahl had the TV on by chance, Jackson came along and they made their point. Or was it otherwise, maybe they simply wanted to contribute something that was down to earth rather than just arty and fashionable.

In this they have succeeded, and in their wake they have been joined by Erik Kessels.


Where did you first hear ‘Thriller’? When did you see the infinitely long horror clip? And which was the first party you remember when ‘Thriller’ was played the whole evening, time and time again? They’re questions along the lines of: where were you when you heard about the attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001? These are the questions Candice Breitz confronts you with on the DVD.
Breitz immediately drags me along in her lookback. Suddenly I was back at that party in Manhattan, just after ‘Thriller’ came out. Actually I was fed up with all those Columbia University students casually abandoning themselves to ‘Thriller’, a few streets away from the black poverty of Harlem. The picture imposed itself again: a house full of electronic equipment, books and American contentment, and everyone going completely out of their mind. At the time, it was too much for me: I felt ashamed at the sight of exclusively white students getting off on what I saw as black, revolution-driven music. Now, two generations later, when I see white fans in what is actually a comparable atmosphere, I know better. Of course, these are fans driven mostly by nostalgic fashion, but, just like the students then, they are unaware of anything like a revolutionary motor, for there was, and is, no such thing.
Both of these groups have the right to their Jackson. After all, Michael sought out the white public. He had his face rebuilt so as to be able to identify with them. His ideal public is white youth, and here Michael gets what he has always, in a very relaxed way, looked for. Ah well, they might well be a bit too old for Michael who prefers to see himself surrounded by children, but they act out an innocence that, in their facial expression and body language, they are no longer really able to live up to, but precisely by laying siege in this way to Michael Jackson’s by no means innocent aura, the artistic vision of entertainer and video maker is endowed with such a beautiful uncertainty that everything begins to twist and roll nicely. They sing the title song from ‘Thriller’, but it’s lost all the exuberance it used to have. Nothing remains of that communal going out of your mind. The dancers’ loneliness is obvious, although for a moment there is the impression of a line dance with four people in a row. But that is merely a digital effect, they all have their own place, separated from each other by the invisible lines of the video.


Erik Kessels is also nostalgic. In the age of Mp3, replaying old cassette tapes with copies of the music from ‘Thriller’ in a continuous visual movement represents a gesture of farewell. That’s what happens here, accompanied by Fahl’s music, and the predictable result brings a chill to your heart. The thrill of ‘Thriller’, tucked away for good in old tapes, serving as the tailpiece to a definitively bygone age.