A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Thriller released, 1982
On this day in 1982, Michael Jackson’s album Thriller was released. As I write, it is the biggest selling album of all time. And with unified collections of music now a “take it or leave it” item displaced by technology it is likely to remain so. Thriller has sold around 60 million copies worldwide (estimate) and continues to sell. It was Jackson’s sixth solo album, his second as a mature artist in charge of his career, and because Jackson had renegotiated his royalty rate with his record company only the year before (after the success of Off the Wall) to give him 37% of wholesale profit, Thriller made him very wealthy. The album was significant in many ways – for the way it mixed black and white styles, for its lavish promo videos, for the way it broke the unofficial embargo against black artists on MTV. Jackson wrote four of the songs on the album, and used writer Rod Temperton and producer Quincy Jones as his secret weapon. But he also pulled in “names” such as Paul McCartney, Eddie Van Halen and Toto’s Jeff Pocaro. Though The Girl Is Mine was the first single released off the album – there were seven singles in all – it was the next single, Billie Jean, that made the album start to shift at over one million units a week. The album Thriller soon became, quite simply, a phenomenon, its sales being regularly reported on news TV. The single Beat It followed, corralling a rock audience with its Van Halen and Steve Lukather guitar work. Finally, when superlatives over the music and sales seemed to be peaking, the news of the 14-minute John Landis-directed video for the Thriller single started to leak out – the most expensive ever made, shot like a film, shown on TV in its own slot – and album sales went up again. There has never been an album/event like it since. It marked the peak of Jackson’s career.
13 Going On 30 (2004, dir: Gary Winick)
Like a lot of bodyswap movies, 13 Going On 30 doesn’t bear close scrutiny. What happens when a 13 year old girl wakes up in a grown woman’s body? Would she really get away with it, or blow the whole thing on her first encounter at work? Burst into tears. As with Big, or Freaky Friday, the best thing to do with this film is not to ask too many questions – no one seems particularly bothered that teenage Bella Swan is being courted by a man over 100 years old in the Twilight films, so why get hung up on this bit of escapist fantasy? That “sex with a minor” aspect is relevant: it had reared its head in Gary Winick’s previous film, Tadpole (cougar seduces 16-year-old boy), and here it is again as newly 30-ish Jennifer Garner – all cheekbones, knees and elbows – tries to get her head around being the editor of the magazine she adored as a kid, while forming a daddy-ish relationship with puppy-eyed Mark Ruffalo (non-threatening sexuality then a specialty). The film is, itself, a bodyswap, a conscious knock-off of a genre that was big in the 1980s, so it’s only appropriate that Jenna (Garner) went to sleep in 1987, only to wake up in the early noughties. And doubly so that the film’s standout scene sees Jenna being “uncharacteristically” enthusiastic for the song Thriller when it’s played at an office party, and leading her work colleagues through a step by step recreation of the zombie dance. But hang on a second, would a 13-year-old really be able to steer a magazine through the production cycle? You might as well ask whether a ten year old boy could run a toy company, as Big asked us to accept. Instead focus on the actors, in particular on Garner’s mile-wide smile, which is what sells the film.
- Garner’s film breakthrough
- Judy Greer’s performance as a neurotic career woman
- Director Gary Winick’s faith in his actors
- The 80s soundtrack – Vanilla Ice, Madonna, Belinda Carlisle
13 Going On 30 – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013