When Michael Jackson was declared dead on that fateful Thursday in June of 2009, most of us healed our pain through the songs. Compact discs flew off store shelves and MP3s funneled through Internet connections in an attempt to recall those days when MJ was the King of Pop. It was these kinds of public celebration - I recall at least one set of speakers blaring "The Way You Make Me Feel" that week in midtown Manhattan - that took center stage for most of us. As a result, it seemed that the music videos got short shrift. It's easy to understand why - it's not as easy to publicly watch and bond over a bunch of short films - but the moving image was as much a part of Jackson's iconography as any studio session ever was.
So how do you properly commemorate this monolithic portion of Michael's oeuvre? The answer lies in Michael Jackson's Vision, a new triple-DVD box set that collates just about every piece of video footage you could ever want. Like so many Jackson catalogue projects from Sony/Legacy in the past decade, it doesn't attain absolute perfection...but it gets closer than any other set the label has released in a long, long time.
There's more to discuss after the jump.
Discussing the iconography of Jackson's videos - the best ones made within the first decade of MTV's existence - is almost irrelevant. We know he started with primitive, chroma-key backdrops and fancy lighting with clips like "Rock with You" to the "short films" of the Thriller era (culminating in the titular video directed by John Landis), then got grandiose and pseudo-psychological ("Bad" warned us of gang life in New York City, "Leave Me Alone" astutely mocked the tabloid coverage surrounding the star) before succumbing to bloat with an occasional side of brilliance ("Black or White," "Scream"). Plenty of people have marveled over Michael's steps in "Beat It," scratched their heads over the weird, mostly misogynistic subtext of "The Way You Make Me Feel" and shaken their head at the maudlin "Earth Song." You've probably seen the best of these videos, and the question thus has less to do with how good Jackson's work is and more with how well it's presented on this set.
Happily, there's a lot to like about the set. Vision is neatly divided into three discs - one devoted to Michael's classic video period, from the lo-fi "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" in 1979 to the star-studded obscurity "Liberian Girl" from 1989; one devoted to the stratospheric excesses of Jackson's '90s (and brief '00s) output and one of some collectible odds and ends - and comes in a slick, gold-tinted package with a thick booklet full of rare behind-the-scenes images and credits. From a packaging and content standpoint, it's the best product to start your MJ discography. The menus are easily navigable, and the ability to shuffle each disc to make your own MJ party mix is a swell touch.
There's a lot of material making its digital debut on Vision. Some great early clips of The Jacksons appear on the third disc ("Enjoy Yourself," "Blame It on the Boogie" and the ten-minute pseudo-epic "Can You Feel It"), while the first "prison version" of "They Don't Care About Us" is loosed from its informal banning. (The "new" video, an unreleased clip for "One More Chance" from the Number Ones compilation, is entirely forgettable.) And, of course, the biggest morsels for collectors are some big chunks from the Moonwalker long-form video, namely the mostly-Claymation clip for "Speed Demon" and the closing cover of The Beatles' "Come Together."
Of course, that's also around the area where fans can make legitimate nitpicks with this set. Those clips from Moonwalker were never really tailored for MTV, and would probably be better suited for an eventual, long-overdue release of the entire flick on DVD. Fans will certainly balk over the fact that every unedited video, there's one inexplicably truncated clip; "Ghosts" is cut down from its original half-hour-plus running time to a taut few minutes. There's a few clips not present on this DVDs that are available on previous sets, including a stellar live performance on the MTV Video Music Awards in 1995 and the iconic performance of "Billie Jean" from Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever (you know, the one that introduced the moonwalk to a generation).
The biggest quibble this writer can offer is the frustrating, occasional dip in picture quality. "The Way You Make Me Feel" is distractingly grainy in parts, and "Speed Demon" is almost certainly sourced from a videocassette (there's a tracking bar toward the end of the clip, not present on this video uploaded to YouTube). Sadly, MTV and the record labels weren't always as diligent with preserving videos on tape, but the fact that most of the rest of the footage looks fine - including the early clips from the late '70s and early '80s - makes the minor lapses painful.
All in all, though, Michael Jackson's Vision is easily the best product Sony's put out since the legend passed on, a set that fans and non-fans can equally enjoy. While you're not going to want to throw out your Greatest Hits HIStory or HIStory on Film Volume II DVDs, and there's still no sign of Making Michael Jackson's Thriller on disc, it's ideal as both an introduction to the videography of The King of Pop and a collectible reminder of his greatness for longtime fans.