Monday, 21 December 2009

A Serious Film? The Coen brothers hit middle age

A Serious Man is a film that asks us to simultaneously empathise with and jeer at Larry, a middle-aged man whose life is a proverbial bag of shit heading towards an equally metaphorical fan. When I meet Joel and Ethan Coen at the London Film Festival, however, they are keen to emphasise that A Serious Man should not be taken quite so seriously.

Joel: It’s not completely autobiographical because the story is made up, but it certainly is a movie that takes place in a particular community. Consciously we set out to recreate the community that we grew up in. There are a lot of similarities to our own background there: we went to Hebrew school, we were Bar Mitzvahed , our father was a professor at a Midwestern university. We grew up in a house like that in a neighbourhood like that. All those things I guess you could say are in some sense autobiographical. But the story is fictional. (Pause) Neither of us were stoned at our Bar Mitzvahs.

Having cleared that detail up, they remain ambiguous in precisely where the fact-fiction line is drawn.

Joel: Larry, the character that Michael Stuhlbarg plays, is not anything like our father – he couldn’t be more different in many ways. The characters themselves weren’t meant to reflect real characters or members of our family or anything else like that. They’re based not on real people but they’re sort of hybrids of different things and impressions we’ve gotten from lots of different people.

Ethan, who has spent the first minutes of the interview staring down at the over-polished table and massaging his brow, now interjects.

Ethan: That’s right. Aaron’s character [Larry’s Columbia Record Club-subscribing son] is very much a very typical kid of that environment, and probably we were too. Not particularly like him but, you know, part of that time and place.

The Coen brother back catalogue is full of unique takes on well-stocked genres and unique collisions of multiple genres. A Serious Man, however, seems to hover – sometimes awkwardly – somewhere between drama and comedy, or between tragedy and folly. Are the Coen brothers finally growing up?

Ethan: Oh I don’t know. We don’t actually compare movies one to the other. We don’t really think about it much. Some of them are more genre pieces than others but this one isn’t the only one that doesn’t sit comfortably in a genre. And maturing? God, who knows? They all look equally juvenile to me.

During this diagnosis of his own lack of maturity, Ethan has peeled the label off of the bottle of mineral water in front of him, leaving a small heap of torn paper on the table.

A Serious Man does celebrate childhood, but alongside a far bleaker look at paternal adulthood. As well as taking a nostalgic glance back, does this film about a man undergoing a spectacular midlife crisis betray any of anxiety over a forthcoming middle age? Ethan giggles. An element of mild hysteria – brought on no doubt by a morning of similar interviews – is, it seems, already creeping up on him. laughing, he answers the question.

Ethan: No not in any specific way, but I don’t think either of us would have written this movie when we were thirty.

Joel: For all kinds of reasons.

Ethan: In a very impunible way, yes, only a middle-aged person could’ve written it.

It’s been twenty-five years since the release of Barton Fink (1984) but the Coen brothers are currently more prolific in their output than they have ever been. Spotting a potential common ground, I’m curious as to whether they ever find themselves pulling studentesque all-nighters?

Joel: Oh shit no!

Ethan: No, you know, it’s funny. Joel will say if he disagrees but I think it feels like we’re fairly lazy, and yet, relative to other people, we do seem to get a fair amount done.

He pauses.

Ethan: But I think that just reflects poorly on other people as oppose to well on ourselves.

Joel: What are they all doing?!

As a partnership, Ethan and Joel are unique in that the vast majority of their films are both written and directed entirely by themselves.

Ethan: It’s certainly easier if you can manage to generate or find your own material as oppose to being reliant on other people, because then you have an ownership of something. You can go out and try and do something with it yourself as oppose to waiting for people to offer you the opportunity to make something. I think that was true when we were starting out, and it’s probably still true now.

Next, the Coens will be returning to genre filmmaking with an adaption of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel True Grit. It is the wild western tale of a young teenage girl who sets out to avenge the death of her father at the hands of a disloyal family farmhand.

Joel: It’s a western. It was made into a movie once before in the late sixties with John Wayne. We’re going to star [long-time Coen brothers collaborator] Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, and a fourteen-year-old girl who we haven’t cast yet – she’s really sort of the main character of the movie.

You read it here first.

A Serious Man is reviewed below >>>

The rabbi of suburbia: A Serious Man

* * * * *

Despite being the birthplace of many a filmmaker, Suburbia has always suffered something of a love-hate relationship with Hollywood. Think the sickly-sweet, conservative home pride of the Stepford Wives (1975), the insatiably gossip-hungry housewives in Edward Scissorhands (1990), the self-destructive psychoses of American Beauty (1999) or the disheartening claustrophobia of this year’s Revolutionary Road (2009)

With A Serious Man, however, the Coen brothers give a different and original treatment of this slice of American society. The surItalicprise of this Coen brothers film (and there always is a surprise) is that we get a realistic setting inhabited by realistic characters. Indeed, to be snobby of the suburbs would involve, for Joel and Ethan Coen, looking down on their roots; A Serious Man is full of touchingly autobiographical detail.

Living in a distinctly Jewish community in 1960s Midwestern America, the sort Joel and Ethan grew up in, Larry Gopnik is (like the directors' father) a university academic. Upon his wife leaving him for the excrutiatingly smooth Sy Ableman, Larry undergoes a spectacular, yet wholly believable, midlife crisis. Haplessly downtrodden by the expectations of his children (who want nose jobs and rock music, respectively), his students (a bribe-happy foreign student disappointed with his low grades), and his dependent, coach-surfing older brother, the fact that he is able to resist the temptations of his sultry, topless-sunbathing neighbour is something of a miracle; iced tea and marijuana is as far as the virtuous Larry will allow it to go.

Being a good man blighted by bad lack does not make Larry off limits for some trademark Coen digs. Far subtler than other Coen brothers films (the farcical Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading) much of the humour of A Serious Man lies in ­­­­Larry’s bewilderment in the face of his situation: his tired, submissive acceptance of a patronising hug from his wife’s new lover is at once both hilarious and depressing.

Faith, too, receives a gentle lampooning. A terrific, offbeat ‘traditional’ folk-tale (written by the Coen brothers) opens the film and establishes an authentic varnish of the Judaic traditions that pervade the rest of the film. Larry’s futile consultations with various rabbis – one, half his own age; anther, businesslike in his transaction of ‘wisdom’ – provide the film with some of its funniest scenes while also managing to convey a real sense of frustration.

Physics also falters where religion fails, hence the sublime dream scene in which Sy bangs Larry’s head against a blackboard scrawled over with the Chaos Theory. The suitably unsatisfying, inconclusive and ultimately terrifying ending is one remembered long after the credits.

The Coens avoid the tempting clichés of a 1960s suburban setting (not a Rolling Stones record within earshot), resulting in a wholly believable (if slightly caricatured) depiction of life in that time and that place. The absence of recognisable faces adds to the authenticity of the story; George Clooney reading from the Torah would have been hilarious, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

What we get instead are uniformly perfect performances from relative unknowns, in a film from two writer-directors who have made a career out of incisive character-led comic dramas. Some fans of the Coen brothers’ films may be disappointed by a lack of madcap action, but others will find plenty to enjoy in a more mature, ambiguous and interesting film from this still-brilliant partnership.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Saatchi Factor:

The School of Saatchi, BBC 2

Tracey Emin, Kate Bush, Frank Cohen and Matthew Collings star in Charles Saatchi ‘s latest media farce: a mediocre talent show hailing the death of imagination.

Twelve young hopefuls. Four expert judges. One life-transforming prize. There can, of course, be only one winner.

I’ve just sat through The School of Saatchi, the second programme in a series of three promising to find the next big thing in the modern art world. The winner will win the use of a London studio for the next three years and, more importantly, the Charles 'Midas' Saatchi stamp of approval.

Anyone hoping for a chance to catch a glimpse under the suit, as it were, of the ever-elusive Charlie S. will have been disappointed. From the start we are told (by Come Dine With Me sound-alike narrator, Hugh Bonneville, just in case we failed to notice the talent show framework) that the famously reclusive Charles Saatchi won’t be appearing on his own programme. On the plus side, we are treated to the same black and white studio photo of the man about six or seven times throughout. Thanks.

So the School of Saatchi is missing its headmaster. But luckily there are four teachers on lunch break duty to make sure nothing too exciting happens: First up is critic Matthew Collings – a smiley Sir Alan Sugar, if you will – on hand to give the Desperate Dans some momentarily interesting 30 second art history lessons. Alongside him is Kate Bush. No, sorry, you’re thinking of a different Kate Bush. No, this Kate Bush wears all black and stands in shadows. But, art collector Frank Cohen, “the Saatchi of the North” (but still, no Saatchi), provides some colour to the palette (he has the reddest face I have ever seen) but says next to nothing for almost the whole hour.

And lastly, but by no means most talented, is racey Tracey Emin, playing the maverick supply teacher whose “I think that’s a load of bollocks” is the first of her many eloquent contributions. Where’s a flashing neon sign when you need it, eh Trace? She also doubles up as the consciously provocative, dismissive, Cowel-esque Scrooge of the panel, just in case viewers start to suspect that what they are watching is not reality TV and decide to flick over to I’m A Celebrity... on ITV.

The truth is that, annoyingly, the artwork on show is itself given only a few precious moments in the spotlight. When we are treated to some of it, however, you begin to see why: it’s boring as hell. An art student who has stolen a road sign stand (minus the sign itself, presumably struggling with both as she made a quick midnight getaway, pissed off her tits, back to her Shoreditch flat) is, for Tracey, “unpretentious”. The one contestant that isn’t asked “why is it art?” by the judges is the one contestant who most urgently needs to think long and hard about an answer.

Instead, the panel reserve the annoying question for those whose talent is more obvious. If we are to take these four industry professionals as an accurate reflection of modern institutional art, then what this confirms is modern British art’s occupation with (for better or for worse) the need to justify itself. Emin’s congratulation at one student’s “good explanation” of her work sums this up neatly.

Talking of Tracey Emin's (in)famous Unmade Bed, Matthew Collings muses that “maybe there are rules, but the audience don’t quite know what they are.” Is it the case, then, that modern art is a modern con played against a unknowing audience?

“Charles really liked it. Charles thinks it would’ve been more interesting if...” is what Saatchi’s PA ventriloquises in his absense when the time comes for his verdict and the shortlisting of six finalists. Tune in next week, when the six young finalists reach the emerald city of Oz, only to find that Charles Saatchi is a big rubber Ron Mueck mask with Nigella Lawson working at the helm.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Incoming: interview with the Coen brother

(Fargo, No Country For Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou, Burn After Reading, The Big Lebowski).

LIFF: The Men Who Stare At Goats

After finally been allowed in by the nervous box office assistant (“I can’t let you in until the clock says five to. I’m sorry...”) and squeezing my way into the packed, beautifully-restored Town Hall, the dimming of the lights ushered in a tangible excitement at this, the opening film of Leeds' International Film Festival 2009.
But sadly, The Men Who Stare At Goats fails to come close to meeting the (by now) very high expectations of the audience: with a fantastically original – and alarmingly factual – premise, George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey, under the direction of Grant Heslov, had a potentially winning film on their hands. They do well to keep it lightly entertaining for (almost) the full ninety minutes, but the lack of narrative drive leaves them up against a tough one.

Jon Ronson’s original non-fiction paperback is a scoop of a story - a treasure trove of journalistic opportunity - which saw the writer/documentary maker stumbling across a ‘special’ US Army unit of ‘special’ psychological warriors, soldiers trained in the New Age-inspired ways of Jedi-warfare. A bizarre chance meeting soon leads Ronson to discover a much darker side of the Iraq war: ‘Barney the Dinosaur’ theme tune torture is just the tip of the ice-berg.

But Ewan McGregor’s fictionalised counterpart refuses to dive deeper below the surface of this potentially fascinating story. Almost no time is given over to looking at how this peace-loving ‘60s ethos spawned some of the most contrived. Yes, George Clooney’s character is one of many that become disillusioned, but what about disillusionment of the Iraqis and their 'liberated' country? The acting is funny, and often hilarious, while the characters themselves are just about likeable, meaning this film remains an enjoyable slap-stick comedy but, disappointingly, nothing more.

Films dealing with the latest Gulf War have done infamously bad in cinemas; it’s just such a shame that The Men Who Stare At Goats wasn’t prepared to tackle the subject head on.

A generous 3/5.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

BIRDWATCHING: Simon Bird interview

This coming Monday, Simon Bird brings his latest project, an ‘experimental game show’, to Leeds. When I’m due to speak to him early on a Freshers’ Week morning, it is with an expected politeness that he answers the phone. His is also the, by now, highly recognisable voice of The Inbetweeners’s Will McKenzie, the ‘at least I’m not’ person of thousands upon thousands of Britain’s post-pubescent males: however excruciatingly ungraceful our journey from puny infantile to (slightly-less-puny) twentysomething, thank God it was never quite that bad.

It is encouraging, then, to know that even Simon’s own teen years were “hampered by the overwhelming sense of failure at all times. You know, when it comes to women and to alcohol and popularity and all those sorts of things.”

Like Will’s?

“I don’t know whether it was quite as exciting or outrageous as some of the escapades and adventures that Will and the boys get into. But yeah, I think, like the boys, you make your own fun.”

Nevertheless, The Inbetweeners remains uncomfortably realistic and well-observed. Watching any episode, it’s easy to become convinced that you too went to the very same doomed house-party, or ill-fated school trip. I ask if this is the key to The Inbetweeners’s success.

“Oh yes. I think that is definitely why people like it – because they can relate to it. And I think that’s down to the script and the writers. They had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do, and it was an original idea that nobody had really tried on British TV. I think that’s why people like it.”

Does Simon think that The Inbetweeners’s concept would translate well into a university setting?

“I’m not sure whether The Inbetweeners is the right show to do it necessarily, just because it’s a bit of stretch to think that Jay and Neil would end up pertaining a place of study with Will.” He pauses. “Or even leave home necessarily.”

It was at the University of Cambridge that Simon began performing as part of The Footlights, the university’s famed comedy revue group responsible for kick-starting the careers of Mitchell and Webb, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, The Monty Pythons, and countless other comedy giants.

“I think the set up of comedy in Cambridge is really good. They have a very set way of doing it. They have a stand-up show every two weeks and do really well in encouraging people to give it a go. I think that’s why Cambridge has done so well at producing comedians.”

I ask him if he has received any particularly useful advice about breaking into comedy. After a silence, he admits: “No earth-shattering advice, other than I think it’s good to find like-minded people. If it’s not just you trying to do it all by yourself, it feels less scary. I think Leeds has a comedy group, doesn’t it?” He’s referring to The Leeds Tealights, the University of Leeds’ own take on the student comedy revue. “I’d recommend looking into that and trying to find other people that are in your situation. Because it’s so much easier and so much more fun to try stuff out and to experiment.”

Sound advice. Simon has come a remarkably long way since his Cambridge days. I’m interested to hear what he’ll be bringing to Leeds.

“It’s called ‘Simon Bird presents An Experimental Game Show’. It’s me trying out some ideas for a potential TV game show, in a similar style to Shooting Stars. It’s quite silly.” A chance to loosen up a little and leave Will in the classroom, then. “Hopefully it will be funny,” he adds, perhaps betraying a few nerves. “It’ll have a lot of audience interaction. It’s quite a good night for people who are a little bit drunk. It’s got that sort of anarchic feeling” – I can hear Will’s apprehension creeping in – “so hopefully it’ll go down well.” I’m certain it will.

Having just mentioned Shooting Stars, I ask Simon which other shows and comedians have influenced him so far. He acknowledges that his brand of comedy is “quite realistic and low key a lot of the time” describing it as “quite quiet and gentle. I think the bigger influence I’ve grown up with is The Office, because that came out while I was in 6th form. But there are lots of shows around that I love, like the Peep Show. And I’ve been watching a lot of [US Fox sitcom] Arrested Development, which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It is brilliant. All my favourite shows are sitcoms. It would be a dream to write a classic.”

Watch this space. Now that Simon has reached celebrity status, I’m curious: has he got round to trashing any hotel rooms yet?

“Not yet” is his sincere reply. “I’m in one at the moment actually. I think the thing is that people who trash hotel rooms do it in really nice hotels that can actually be trashed. Here, they’ve done quite a good job themselves.”

'Simon Bird Presents An Experimental Game Show', coming live to a union near you.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Il Divo (better than Simon Cowell's...)

In Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, a profile of long serving Italian Prime minister Giulio Andreotti who enjoyed close ties with both the Vatican and Italy’s criminal underworld, the director relishes combining gangster flick elements with a strong literary history that portrays Italy's institutions (political and religious) in a less than favourable light, working with the premise of Italy as a hotbed of vice. Government, church and private ambition are tangled up in what is a chillingly smooth and stylised, modern day Machiavellian crime thriller.

When the decision has clearly been made to entertain us with something of a caricature of Andreotti and his men, however, it is confusing that in the opening slides we are made to read several paragraphs of Italian history, a who’s who of political factions. The glossary excerpts prepare us for an academic critique rather than the historical drama that eventually follows. As such, the details are largely irrelevant and confusing.

But when the drama does come, it is deliciously creepy. Beautifully haunting set-pieces stay with you long after the film has finished: the image of the unflinching and docile Andreotti undergoing acupuncture to ease his migraines (his head a crown of pins) is one example, as is the running shot of Andreotti emotionlessly pacing through Rome’s empty night time streets surrounded by armed police escort, back stiff, nerves unwavering. Toni Servillo, who plays the Italian Prime Minister, does fantastically to convey such a sinister persona without so much as moving an eyebrow. His character, for all the film’s caricaturing, is filled with all the ambiguities of a powerful man losing his grip.

On top of some brilliant acting, the film as a whole looks good too. Attention to the details of the period (notably the suits, the decadence and the social order) does not falter, while the cinematography exhausts every opportunity for some dazzling camerawork, depicting events which are cool and calm one moment and then furiously unravelling the next through a range of different shots. Equally, the soundtrack manages to flit disorientatingly from melodic classical symphonies to ruthless industrial guitars in an incongruous mix that wouldn’t appear out of place in a Tarantino film. One of my only negative comments would be that, being such a self-consciously sleek film, Il Divo seems slightly too contrived at times. This said, the smile that creeps cross your face at the brutal ridiculousness of it all tells you that this too is one of the joys of watching the film.

It's just a shame that such a fantastic film shares it's name with those four cocks that Simon Cowel desses up in suits...

From Wainwright to Wagner: Prima Donna review

Something strange happened when I was in Manchester a few weeks ago, losing my opera virginity to Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna: people were laughing.

This was partly thanks to Steve Kirkham generating big laughs during his fantastic turn as the loveably idiotic, high-camp porter of ageing opera diva Régine, but comedy also came from the incongruity of an opera being set in a home (albeit a luxurious, aristocratic Parisian residence) rather than amidst the pomp of public society. Particularly when Régine sings that her maid should bring a pot of coffee with ‘twooo CUUUPS’, Wainwright appears to be gently mocking opera as an art form conservatively reserved for tales of high drama and steep falls from grace rather than domestic tea break requests. (Either that, or he's being unknowingly ridiculous). Also, the fact that Prima Donna is an opera about opera makes it appropriate that Wainwright - adolescence spent largely in the opera audience - passes some kind of comment about what opera has been and what it is. I'm flattering myself, but it felt a bit like he was sharing a joke with the (potentially high number of) opera first-timers who came to see his librettist debut.

But thankfully he indulges himself in the expectations of melodrama and the opera genre. There is the ageing high society belle, the demons she is unable to exorcise, and her modest helpers, all played out in front of the spangled backdrop of crumbling aristocracy and fading fame.

Speaking of backdrops (this time literal ones), Antony McDonald’s design is one of Prima Donna’s treats. What must have been a huge budget has enabled McDonald to create an extraordinary stunning world for Wainwright’s characters to live in. Sparse yet luxurious, wall-high double doors and silver-panelled rooms that cover the entire stage instantly and effortlessly sketch the wealth of the privileged European aristocracy. But the silver walls are tarnished, and what was once glittering now flashes menacingly at the audience. Peter Mumford’s beautiful lighting design transforms this vast, empty, panelled lounge into the jaws of some furiously gnashing monster.

And then there is the wardrobe. Beautifully classic black gowns jostle with brashly fluorescent green dinner suits in a highly stylised production, while Régine spends entire scenes swathed in huge amounts of fabric, the flagging star swallowed by her on-stage persona. The butler Phillipe’s white face, scarlet lips and vivid suit reminded me (annoyingly, at first) of Jack Nicholson’s psychedelic psychopath, the Joker, but Jonathan Summers’ booming drawl suggests pure monster rather than menace. It was astonishing how the strong cast are able to convey such a clear sense of character through their singing.

That said, considering the emotional complexity of the huge majority of Wainwright’s music, it was surprising to see such vivid, crystalized, and almost obvious characterisation. In a lot of other contexts this would have been a strength, but knowing how much more Wainwright has to offer left me hankering for some of that ambiguity.

So instead, the other of Prima Donna’s big strengths lies, as you might expect, in Rufus' music. Soaring, acrobatic melodies, notes held long and high, sail from the stage. They’re accessible too (i.e. appreciable to those without music degrees, Lordship titles and opera season tickets) but it’s clear to see that Wainwright has not compromised his art for a wider audience. For all its razzmatazz, style, comedy and caricature, Prima Donna manages to pack a surprisingly hard emotional punch as Wainwright relishes the chance to deliver a tragic, operatic finish.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Rufus Wainwright: New York's prima donna

I’ve long been waiting for an excuse to foray the world of opera (as a spectator, not a performer) to see what the upper classes have been so jealously guarding for so very long. And now I think I've found one.

A few days ago I found out that Rufus Wainwright, one of my favourite singers and musicians, has spent the last year or so writing his first opera. Documenting a day in the life of an ageing opera diva on the eve of her great comeback, Prima Donna premieres at 2009’s Manchester International Festival this week!

Somehow it makes sense for Rufus to be the writer of an opera. Although I’m reluctant to say so, (not being the biggest fan of West End musicals) it’s easy to see elements of stage musical in his work, particularly the way he weaves narratives through his songs and sculpts complex yet vivid characters. I can’t wait to see how this translates to the stage.

Although I guess he is one, Rufus Wainwright is an artist that I won’t refer to as a singer-songwriter. That term has taken a battering in recent years, being used to denote anyone (usually male mid-twenties) who can play a guitar and sing and write a song. And so under this useless umbrella term we have the boring KT Tunstall, the dire Paulo Nutini, and the frankly quite evil one-man-boy-band that is James Morrison (who gave these people guitars?!). Yes Rufus can sing, write his own material, and play a generous handful of instruments, but his songs have an emotional depth and ambiguity that we’re not used to seeing in pop music today. You can listen to ‘California’ (Poses, 2001) over and over again and still not quite get what he’s on about when he croons ‘California, you’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed’. Besides, you're unlikely to get James Morrison in a trilby and fishnets for Comic Relief, let alone doing Judy Garland covers to a packed Glastonbury crowd.

Those of you claiming not to know any of Rufus’ work may already have unwittingly heard his effortlessly soaring vocals on ‘Complainte de la Butte’ (Moulin Rouge) or the beautifully simple melodic heartache of his ‘Hallelujah’ cover (Shrek). After you’ve reminded yourself of those, Spotify ‘Poses’, ‘The Consort’ (Poses, 2001) and ‘Oh What a World’ (Want One, 2003). And be amazed.

Now where did I leave my monocle and top hat...?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Whatzupwit Michael?

For those of you with Thriller overload, here’s a little known song of Michael Jackson’s that I’ve always been a fan of. Although most of you will have never heard this gem, Whatzupwitu has all the ingredients of a Jackson classic: Trippy video? Check. Addictive chorus? Check. Children’s choir on backing? Check. Eddie Murphy on lead? What?!

Ok so I lied. This track isn’t 100% pure, not-from-concentrate MJuice. Instead, it appears on Eddie Murphy’s ill-fated album of 1993, Love's Alright, which means you won’t find it anywhere in Jackson’s back catalogue of record breaking, um, records.

The video is one part cringe to nine parts super-cool. While Murphy, in wife-beater and porno 'tache, provides helpful actions to accompany his lyrics, Jackson looks effortlessly brilliant, pelvic thrusting one minute, and releasing flocks of Disney doves from the palms of his hands the next. The cheap bluescreen animation and throwaway drum-machine pop makes me suspect that the pair threw this three and a half minute wonder together in three and a half minutes, maybe one night at Neverland after getting smashed. In fact, if the tabloids are looking for evidence to confirm that Jackson was a prolific drug-user, they might find it in the video's opening frames in which a clown tells us that "The elephant eez dying" before an elephant (presumably the one which is dying) balances the globe on its back whilst pirouetting on the back of a turtle.

There will only ever be one Michael Jackson. Wait, what's that? Several other Miachel Jackson's raining from the sky? Jesus! It's literally pouring mini Jacksons! Meanwhile, an assortment of musical notes and peace symbols flurry around the pair who float through the sky exchanging cheeky bromantic banter, looking like they couldn’t be happier. And just when you think it can't get any sweeter, a classroom full of kids skips into the room - I mean, sky - to sing along. All together now... Whatzurrrp.

It's all so innocent, so care-free. That is until Eddie Murphy (in his wifebeater, remember) suddenly turns on his friend to brace him in a headlock and... that’s it! That’s where the video ends! I can’t help thinking that there is a whole load of grizzly unreleased footage depicting what happened next. Whether it's enough to incriminate Murphy as a murder suspect for Jackson’s death I guess remains to be seen.

How this was such a commercial failure I do not know. Why could the world not get enough of MJ's gag-inducing duet with Paul McCartney ("I'm a lover, not a fighter") but completely overlook this psycadelic, drum-machine ridden morsel? It turned out that not even Midas Jackson could give Eddie Murphy the golden touch he needed to kick start a music career. But what it does show is that all you need to make an ace music video is a bluescreen and a class full of hyperactive school kids buzzing on Maoam. Oh and Michael Jackson. Now there's a project for the summer.

Ok. You can all go back to listening to Billie Jean now.

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