To go, or not to go, that was the question I had to answer on receiving an email saying I’d scored a priority ticket to the Michael Jackson ‘Scream’ event in Hollywood on Tues 24 October, 2017.
While it may seem strange to many other fans that I hesitated for even a second, the fact was, my itinerary in the US was already mapped out for sightseeing and Michaeling, and deviating from those plans meant missing out on an expedition I had been eagerly anticipating. There is no gain without sacrifice, it seems.
In the end it came down to friends – specifically Yoly in Vancouver, Queenie in Hong Kong and Marge in Toronto. The former duo also had tickets and intended to make the trip to Hollywood for the event. The latter had been to see Thriller 3D at the Toronto International Film Festival and urged me not to let the opportunity slip to (a) see it and (b) talk to the Michael Jackson Estate representatives who would be attending.
It meant cancelling hotel reservations and making new ones and bumping some planned excursions to some other year, God willing.
Thus the evening of 24 October found us lined up at the event meeting point in Hollywood, excited and happy to be mixing with fans similarly keen to make the most of the opportunity to enjoy and celebrate the genius of Michael Jackson.
The different factions in MJ fandom have made me wary of large fan gatherings. Any event intended to celebrate him has the potential to erupt in heated discussion on contentious issues. But at this official event, we were a noisy, harmonious crowd as we were directed down the block and across Hollywood Blvd to the illuminated forecourt of the Chinese Theaters complex.
The forecourt, with its many hand and footprints of industry luminaries impressed in concrete, was covered with red carpeting – with the exception of the two slabs representing Michael Jackson. One was the slab in which Prince, Paris and “Blanket” had pressed their father’s crystal-encrusted glove and their own hand prints, and the soles of a pair of his signature loafers in a ceremony held 26 January 2012. The other was the so-called ‘Broken Heart Stone’ that Michael had impressed himself back in the 80s for a Las Vegas project that didn’t eventuate.
These two adjacent blocks were framed, but not covered, by the red carpet, highlighting the fact that it was Michael Jackson, and only Michael Jackson, who was being celebrated tonight.
A light show projected artwork from the new Scream compilation album around the facade of the theatre in a swirl of movement. The music pumped out and the voices of all of us waiting our turn on the red carpet (for a photo opportunity) rose in volume – and excitement.
Inside, free popcorn and soft drinks awaited us at the candy counter and then we were directed to our seats towards the front of the theatre where the ‘priority’ or ‘fan club’ (as the staff referred to us) attendees were grouped. So, we had superb seats, and were surrounded by like-minded souls all waiting for the show to begin.
It took awhile to get everyone in and seated. In the meantime, quiz questions and answers relevant to the Scream album were projected on the screen, along with animated imagery reflecting the album artwork. This played in constant rotation, interrupted by screenings of a preview of the forthcoming animated TV special ‘Michael Jackson’s Halloween’ which was to debut on Friday night (27 Oct) on the CBS network in the US. It looked like it was going to be tremendous fun, and guaranteed to appeal to young potential fans – and hopefully most of us older ones too!
Finally the MC walked on stage – Nick Cannon, himself a huge MJ fan – and introduced the full-length version of Michael Jackson’s Ghosts – which had never before been seen on the big screen in the US. From the minute the Maestro (Jackson) appeared the crowd went wild; the start of the award-winning dance sequence to the tune of 2Bad sent them into an even greater frenzy.
As a champion of the Ghosts short film, and a lover of this era of Michael’s career, I was ‘over the moon’ at seeing my favourite ‘video’ projected in top-notch quality on the giant screen. For me, this was the highlight of the evening – never mind that it came at the very beginning.
We then had a newly composed Blood on the Dance Floor video that incorporated the original footage of Michael singing and dancing with new footage of Cirque du Soleil’s MJ ONE cast members doing what they do so well. While I don’t understand the need for a new BOTDF video when the original is so great (see my article about it via the link here) I guess every new album release – Scream, in this case – is entitled to a new video or two. If music video shows on TV don’t want to play the classics, give them something ‘new’ that remains true to the vision of the original.
Finally it was time for Thriller 3D, with director John Landis walking on stage to introduce his masterpiece. He spoke briefly about it, and introduced some VIP attendees in the audience – the legendary SPFX/make-up artist who created Michael’s werecat character, Rick Baker (‘leave it to Rick to wear a white shirt’ Landis quipped, as Baker stood for appreciative applause against a mostly dark-clad audience) and Ola Ray, who plays Michael’s girlfriend in the video. Ola still looks stunning, and it was good to see her at the event, happy and celebrating Michael now that her financial claims against him – and subsequently his Estate – have been settled.
There was an especially interesting moment in Landis’ introduction where he expressed how he would love to get his hands on the HIStory tour footage and edit that into a special. My ears pricked up at this, as HIStory is my favourite of Michael’s tours. If it was wishful thinking on John’s part, I hoped Michael’s Estate were listening and taking note.
Every seat in the theatre had been equipped with 3D glasses in preparation for the screening of Thriller, and while the impact of the 3D was minimal, the impact of the video, and especially the dance sequences on the big screen, was quite the opposite. Like Ghosts, the cinematic quality of Thriller was clearly evident when projected in the larger-than-life format for the cinema screen.
After the cheers and applause following the show, we stood and talked in groups in the theatre, awaiting the bulk of the crowd to file out and on to the after party in the event venue upstairs. When we got there, DJ Steve Aoki was pumping out thumping dance mixes of MJ tracks to a back-drop of swirling lights, while high up on the walls, footage of Michael’s videos relevant to the Scream album were played in constant rotation.
The VIPs had their own roped off area, but did not restrict themselves to the space – it was just somewhere to which they could retreat when the press of the crowd became too exhausting – which it was at times.
As reported in the media (and sighted by yours truly) Joseph and Jackie Jackson were in attendance, and well-known MJ impersonator Carlo Reilly made himself available for fan photos and joined Aoki on the stage for one number.
There was free food and drink – and no sign of the action, or the energy, slacking for the majority of the fans who were revelling in the celebrations. That was the important aspect of the night – it was a CELEBRATION of Michael Jackson.
Whether or not one buys the album, supports its release, is interested in the respective short films or the animated TV special, this was first and foremost an opportunity for fans, VIPs and the Estate to come together in common purpose – acknowledging the genius of Michael Jackson and his art, and the many collaborators who helped him realise his vision and ambitions for some of his pieces.
Despite the volume of the music making conversations virtually impossible, I was determined to get a word with Estate co-executor John Branca. We were able to attract his attention and he was happy to come over and talk with us. I wish it had been under conditions that made a real conversation possible. As it was, we talked briefly about Ghosts – which I told him was my absolute favourite – the new Blood on the Dance Floor video (the song is John’s current favourite – though he admitted his favourites change all the time) and the fact that next year Thriller 3D will be in IMAX theatres all over the world.
John also talked about the plans for Michael’s 60th birthday celebrations in Las Vegas in August 2018. This is probably going to be the biggest event on the MJ calendar for the year, and one which those of us who are ‘travelling fans’ should prepare for in advance. It’s going to be HUGE! (I use that word without intending it to remind anyone of a certain individual currently occupying the Oval Office in the US!)
My friends stayed on to party a little longer, while I headed back to my hotel. It had been a long day, preceded by an almost sleepless night, and a long day’s drive before that, and while the midnight hour was still about 75 minutes away, for me it was definitely time to call it a day!
One final footnote to the evening that made me smile was witnessing Joe Jackson and his minders waiting for a hotdog to be prepared for him by a street vendor outside the cinema. I guess Joe’s tastes are for more hearty fare than all the free food on offer at the party.
And that, dear friends and fellow fans, was my experience of MJ Scream Los Angeles, in Hollywood, on the night of 24 October 2017. It was worth the effort it took to be there, that’s for sure.
Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan