16. "Man in the Mirror" (1987)
"He was just bawling," says director Donald Wilson about the first time Michael Jackson saw an unfinished cut of "Man in the Mirror." "He walked out of there and just reached for me and hugged me." With raw footage of hunger, war, homelessness and racial violence – and just one shot of Michael – the video was a powerful statement to deliver to personality-driven MTV.
Donald Wilson, director: Larry [Stossel, Epic exec] told me Michael wanted to do something real heart-wrenching and tell a story, and could I go meet with him. This was the day after Thanksgiving. We met in the attic of [Jackson manager] Frank DiLeo's home in Encino – even just the attic was a palace. So, Michael and I sat down and just started making a list of things that we could think of. I had two or three hand-written pages of ideas. Michael wasn't the kind of guy who told you what to do, he would inspire you to go do it with his backing.
I went to all these places that have archival news footage and say, 'Give me all your worst stuff.' And by the end of the day, I'd looked at dead bodies and massacres and famine. After a while, I would go to a bar – immediately. It was brutal.
I probably had 200 hours of footage. My goal kind of was, if you could take the video and play it in reverse, it starts from the planet out in space and then a child in an incubator and then young children; and by the time you get to the end of the video, all hell's broken loose. It's just sort of man's laziness about doing things. I'm gonna make this thing out of 80 percent news footage that people have already seen and they change the channel because it's too hard to watch, or it's too boring. I'm gonna use the same stuff and make them go, 'Wow, I've never seen that before.' Oh yeah, you have.
Before Michael passed we were actually thinking about doing an updated version. I would have hated to do it and not be better, which is kinda the reason I didn't go for it. That thing was so magical in a weird kind of way.