Michael Jackson: The Making of Thriller: 4 Days/1983 by Douglas Kirkland
Review by Kate Allen
As trite as it is to begin a review with such a tired, fossilised phrase, I’m afraid I have no choice as it’s rather apt for this book documenting the making of Michael Jackson’s most iconic video. “Never judge a book by its cover” – and in this case the cover of …The Making of Thriller is altogether impressive, with a sizeable hologram that transforms Michael from heartthrob to zombie. If only the rest of the book was as striking.
Put together by Douglas Kirkland and Nancy Griffin, the only photographer and writer given access to the set of Thriller, this book has certainly materialised from noble intentions; to celebrate the greatest talent either Kirkland or Douglas had ever been in the presence of. There are a few snippets and gems of new information, from the inspiration director John Landis gave to Michael to help him get into the role of a “fearsome beast”, to the effervescent excitement of the fans that caught word of this top-secret shoot and screamed outside the set. However, the frequent peppering of quotes from the likes of Chris Brown and MC Hammer, which have clearly been lifted from Twitter around the time of Michael’s passing, throughout this book seems somewhat lazy, redundant and just plain monotonous. And why one would grant the final word in a book on arguably one of Michael Jackson’s greatest artistic achievements to Beyoncé Knowles is beyond me.
The real merit of this book is its wealth of rare and unseen behind-the-scenes images. Particularly intriguing are the numerous shots of Michael being transformed from man, to werewolf, to back-from-the-dead ghoul at the hands of make-up effects extraordinaire Rick Baker. All the moments that pass by too quickly in the Making Michael’s Thriller documentary, are now frozen and readily available for closer inspection. We get to see Michael nonchalantly sipping from a straw in a Disney cup, with his pet boa constrictor placed on his lap as the final touches are added to his new monstrous mask. Plus the sight of a crew member having to administer eye drops to a fearsome looking werewolf is rather entertaining. Of course, applying the make-up is only half the story; seeing the pain Michael went through as latex and glue are peeled from his face is blood-drawlingly excruciating.
This is certainly a book that fans will be fascinated by, but do not expect any secrets or magical details to be uncovered here. The one hope I approached this book with was to finally discover whether the popcorn Michael snacks on before running out of the movie theatre is salty or sweet. I’m still yet to resolve this mystery. If anyone can help – answers on the back of a postcard, please!