It's been 17 years since Douglas Kirkland had exclusive access as the sole photojournalist at Michael Jackson's landmark ?Thriller? video. It wasn't until Jackson's death in June, 2009 that the photographer decided to finally share the wealth of material he originally shot for Life magazine in book form, due out this month as Michael Jackson: The Making of Thriller/4 Days/1983. We asked Kirkland about a few of his favorite shots, as well as what they revealed about the singer.
Kirkland: There were many hours of makeup that had to be applied for Michael's transformations, and during that time, he was very relaxed, even if he was limited in his movement. The only way he could drink was through a straw. But I?ve never seen anybody be more patient and calm under stress, because he could not have been comfortable.
Kirkland: Michael had sought out John Landis because he wrote and directed An American Werewolf in London, and John was happy to come aboard, so they had a good relationship, and that's what you?re seeing there. They were in rehearsal mode, and this is just how loose they were as they were setting up. Michael had a nice affection for Ola, but she was star struck by him, and that's what you?re seeing there. He did like her, but as far as he was concerned, she was like a sister to him. But she was in love with him, and you can see that here.q
Kirkland: Here, they?re doing the earlier portion of the full mask you see with him drinking through the straw. They?re using glue to put on these tubes — makeup artist Rick Baker is holding one — which allow air to come in like small balloons so that Michael can create expressions on his face. That's the kind of insider stuff that isn't shown all that often.
Kirkland: On the second or third day, someone brought a bag in, and out came Michael's pet snake Muscles. We didn't know what was in the bag, so some people were a little less than comfortable when he came out. And Michael got a giggle from how people responded to Muscles. He liked to hold him in his lap, and it made him feel in control. He was totally at ease when Muscles was there.
Kirkland: There were a couple of different faces that Michael had put on. Rick Baker felt that Michael looked more like a cat than a wolf, with his high cheekbones, so he becomes a werecat instead of a werewolf. This just seemed more realistic for Michael.
Kirkland: John Landis is setting up the shot, and he's putting his hand in a specific spot to show Michael where his mark will be. All the blocking was very detailed, since they were shooting at night, and outdoors.
Kirkland: After Michael takes his date to the movie, they have a series of frightening events, and you learn that he has the characteristics of several frightening characters, including a zombie.
Kirkland: What's perhaps the most frightening moment in the video is when the zombies come through the wall of the cemetery and march towards the camera. So they?re performing for the camera, in the most dramatic fashion, as if they will come and destroy you.
Kirkland: This is at the end of the day, the end of a 12 hour day, when Michael is getting his makeup taken off, and this is very painful, almost like someone is ripping bandages off of you. And that's the wonderful thing about Michael, is that he never became angry, even when he was tired, even when he was in pain, and you can see the pain here. He was never short with people, and he was never loud.
Kirkland: Michael was basically waiting in front of the Palace Theatre to start rolling, and this wasn't part of the video. This particular image, however, was painted by Andy Warhol and it became the cover of Time magazine, and that painting later sold for $500,000. I really love this picture, because this is the Michael that we all love to remember. He never looked better.