How Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Video Changed Pop Culture Forever: Revisit the 13-Minute Short Film Directed by John Landis

Michael Jackson's Thriller, the album, had spent the previous year at the top of the charts before the John Landis-directed video for the title track debuted in 1983. Two previous videos, for massive hits “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” kept him on constant rotation on the fledgling MTV and other networks. It seemed that the “naïve, preternaturally gifted 25-year-old” couldn’t get any more internationally famous, but then, as Nancy Griffin writes at Vanity Fair, “it was the ‘Thriller’ video that pushed Jackson over the top, consolidating his position as the King of Pop."

His naïveté was matched by a shrewd, calculating ambition, and the story of the “Thriller” video highlights both. After seeing An American Werewolf in London, he chose Landis to make a video that would goose Thriller’s sales as they started to fall. Landis, the profane, irreverent director of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, may have seemed an odd choice for the wholesome pop star, who prefaced his zombie spoof with a pious disclaimer about his “strong personal convictions.” (Shortly before the video's release, Jackson, under pressure from the Jehovah's Witnesses, asked Landis to destroy it.)




It turns out, however, that when Jackson called Landis, he hadn’t seen any of the director’s other films (and Landis hadn’t heard the song). It was Landis who suggested that the video be turned into a 14-minute short film, a choice that set the bar high for the form ever since. As he told Billboard’s John Branca on the video’s 35th anniversary, just days ago:

Music videos at that time were always just needle drop. Some were pretty good, but most were not, and they were commercials. Michael’s such a huge star that I said, “Maybe I can bring back the theatrical short.” I pitched him the idea, and he totally went for it. Michael was extremely enthusiastic because he wanted to make movies.

Before “Thriller” even aired, it was a high-profile event. “Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson and Jackie Kennedy Onassis all turned up on set,” notes Phil Hebblethwaite, “and Eddie Murphy, Prince and Diana Ross were spotted at the private premier.” After the video premiered on MTV at midnight on December 2nd, it sealed the network’s “reputation as a new cultural force; dissolved racial barriers in the station’s treatment of music,” and “helped create a market for VHS rentals and sales.”

“Thriller” turned the making of music videos into a “proper industry,” says Brian Grant, the British director who made videos for Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” It “launched a dance craze,” Karen Bliss writes at Billboard, and “a red-jacket fashion favorite.” It won three MTV Awards, two American Music Awards, and a Grammy. In 2009, it became the first music video inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, designated as a national treasure.

But as we look back on unprecedented historic impact “Thriller” had on pop culture, we must also look at its continued impact in the present. It remains the most popular music video of all time. “’Thriller’ is thriving on YouTube,” Griffin writes. Celebrities and ordinary people, professional and amateur dance troops, Filipino prisoners and Norwegian soldiers, routinely perform its dance moves for the camera all over the world. An entire genre of how-to videos teach viewers how to do the "Thriller" dance. This past September, it became the first music video released in IMAX 3D.

The video received the documentary treatment in Jerry Kramer’s Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year. Landis tells Branca one story that did not make it into Kramer's movie. After Quincy Jones refused him permission to remix the song, he and Jackson walked into the studio at night, took the tapes, duplicated them and returned them. The song that appears in the video “is very different than the record,” says Landis. “I only used a third of the lyrics. It’s a 3-minute song; in the film, it plays for 11 minutes.” Jones and engineer Bruce Swedien didn’t even notice, says the director, they were so enthralled with what they saw onscreen.

What continues to drive “Thriller’s” popularity? The combination of good clean fun and perfectly-pitched camp horror—Vincent Price voiceover and all? The virtuoso dance moves, zombie choreography, and irresistibly sleek 80s fashions? All of the above, of course, and also some indefinable sum of all these parts, a perfect combination of cinematic depth and shiny pop culture surfaces that set the benchmark for the format for three-and-a-half decades.

Related Content:

How Michael Jackson Wrote a Song: A Close Look at How the King of Pop Crafted “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”

The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More

James Hill Plays Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on the Ukulele: Watch One Musician Become a Complete Band

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Twerking, Moonwalking AI Robots–They’re Now Here

In a study released last year, Katja Grace at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute “surveyed the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence by asking them when they think intelligent machines will better humans in a wide range of tasks.” After interviewing 1,634 experts, they found that they “believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years.” That includes everything from driving trucks, running cash registers, to performing surgery, and writing New York Times bestsellers. These sobering predictions have prompted academics, like Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun, to write books along the lines of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence which asks the question, How can universities "educate the next generation of college students to invent, to create, and to discover—filling needs that even the most sophisticated robot cannot"? It's a good question. But a challenging one too. Because it assumes we understand what robots can, and cannot, do. Case in point, Boston Dynamics released a video this week of its SpotMini robot dancing to Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk.” It can moonwalk. It can twerk. Did the dance departments see that coming? Doubt it.

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Bauhaus Ballet: A Dance of Geometry

During the past month, the Great Big Story has released a series of videos that revisit the design aesthetic of the Bauhaus movement. Their first video explored the radical buildings designed by Bauhaus architects. A second focused on the legacy of minimalist Bauhaus furniture. And now a third takes as its subject Oskar Schlemmer's 1922 “Triadic Ballet”--a ballet famous for putting geometry and structure into dance. The video above shows the "Bayerisches Junior Ballet München as they prepare to bring Bauhaus center stage again." You can watch a full recreation of the ballet and learn much more about Schlemmer's experimental production by reading this post from our archive.

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Watch an Avant-Garde Bauhaus Ballet in Brilliant Color, the Triadic Ballet, First Staged by Oskar Schlemmer in 1922.

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Dancing in Movies: A Montage of Dance Moments from Almost 300 Feature Films

Someone went through a great deal of effort to stitch together a montage of dance scenes from some 300 feature films. Below find a list of films in order of their appearance, and with the appropriate timestamp.

00:00:06 - Tropic Thunder (2008)

00:09:17 - 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

00:10:10 - Frank (2014)

00:11:02 - Deadpool (2016)

00:12:02 - Girlhood (2015)

00:13:10 - West Side Story (1961)

00:16:18 - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

00:18:00 - Big (1988)

00:18:14 - Risky Business (1983)

00:19:05 - Forrest Gump (1994)

00:19:21 - 20th Century Women (2016)

00:21:02 - God Help the Girl (2014)

00:22:07 - Begin Again (2013)

00:23:16 - The Rocketeer (1991)

00:25:13 - Dead Poets Society (1989)

00:27:21 - Braveheart (1995)

00:28:22 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

00:29:23 - Robin Hood (1973)

00:31:00 - Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

00:32:14 - Titanic (1997)

00:33:14 - Big Fish (2003)

00:35:07 - Go (1999)

00:36:14 - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

00:37:12 - Citizen Kane (1941)

00:38:12 - Life is Beautiful (1997)

00:40:01 - White Nights (1985)

00:42:08 - Swing Time (1936)

00:44:13 - Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

00:45:21 - Mermaids (1990)

00:48:14 - Home Alone (1990)

00:49:18 - Mulholland Drive (2001)

00:50:22 - Boy (2010)

00:51:20 - Girl Asleep (2015)

00:52:08 - Despicable Me (2010)

00:55:05 - Airplane (1980)

00:57:08 - Carrie (1976)

00:58:21 - Love, Rosie (2014)

00:59:21 - The Mask (1994)

01:00:14 - Dope (2015)

01:01:13 - Rock of Ages (2012)

01:02:21 - Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

01:04:14 - Monthy Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

01:04:19 - Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

01:05:12 - Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

01:06:07 - (500) Days of Summer (2009)

01:08:23 - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

01:10:03 - The Muppets (2011)

01:11:00 - Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

01:10:03 - The Muppets (2011)

01:14:00 - Love Actually (2003)

01:16:05 - Mean Girls (2004)

01:19:01 - Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)

01:20:15 - Scarface (1983)

01:22:05 - Grease (1978)

01:24:22 - It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

01:26:13 - The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

01:28:13 - Young Frankenstein (1974)

01:29:16 - Get Smart (2008)

01:31:07 - My Fair Lady (1964)

01:32:12 - An Education (2009)

01:33:21- The Deer Hunter (1978)

01:35:06 - The Sitter (2011)

01:35:22 - Up in the Air (2009)

01:36:20 - Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

01:38:10 - This Is the End (2013)

01:39:13 - Hairspray (2007)

01:40:07 - Dumb and Dumber (1994)

01:41:03 - The Way Way Back (2013)

01:42:01 - Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

01:43:05 - Blazing Saddles (1974)

01:44:05 - Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

01:45:18 - Shrek 2 (2004)

01:47:18 - Flashdance (1983)

01:48:14 - The Gold Rush (1925)

01:49:10 - Magic Mike (2012)

01:50:20 - Viva Las Vegas (1964)

01:52:00 - Clerks II (2006)

01:53:10 - The Great Gatsby (2013)

01:54:08 - Eagle vs Shark (2007)

01:57:06 - What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

01:58:15 - The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

01:59:17 - Rush Hour (1998)

02:01:17 - Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

02:02:17 - The Last Picture Show (1971)

02:03:18 - Band of Outsiders (1964)

02:05:23 - Weird Science (1985)

02:07:15 - Reservoir Dogs (1992)

02:09:10 - Batman (1989)

02:12:20 - Mommy (2014)

02:14:00 - Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

02:15:20 - Hot Shots! (1991)

02:16:14 - Borat (2006)

02:17:14 - American Beauty (1999)

02:18:18 - Moonlight (2016)

02:19:14 - Superbad (2007)

02:20:15 - Garden State (2004)

02:21:15 - Royal Wedding (1951)

02:22:17 - The Big Lebowski (1998)

02:24:07 - My Week with Marilyn (2011)

02:25:13 - Mary Poppins (1964)

02:27:20 - Kickboxer (1989)

02:29:07 - The Blues Brothers (1980)

02:30:21 - Bring it On (2000)

02:32:07 - Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

02:33:17 - Trainspotting (1996)

02:34:10 - American Gangster (2007)

02:34:21 - Don Jon (2013)

02:35:14 - Morris from America (2016)

02:36:08 - Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

02:36:08 - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

02:39:06 - Striptease (1996)

02:40:10 - Donnie Darko (2001)

02:41:04 - The Pink Panther (1963)

02:41:20 - Monsters University (2013)

02:43:09 - Everybody Wants Some (2016)

02:44:18 - Clueless (1995)

02:46:13 - The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

02:47:04 - All That Jazz (1979)

02:48:04 - The Princess Diaries (2001)

02:50:16 - Sing Street (2016)

02:52:12 - While We’re Young (2014)

02:54:06 - Once Bitten (1985)

02:55:15 - Lost River (2014)

02:56:10 - Ruby Sparks (2012)

02:58:03 - Saturday Night Fever (1977)

02:59:05 - Boogie Nights (1997)

03:00:15 - The Reunion 2: The Funeral (2014)

03:01:11 - American Hustle (2013)

03:02:20 - Ex Machina (2015)

03:04:10 - The Losers (2010)

03:06:00 - Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

03:06:20 - The Best Man Holiday (2013)

03:07:10 - Step Up Revolution (2012)

03:08:19 - Shaun of the Dead (2004)

03:10:07 - Billy Elliot (2000)

03:11:22 - Funny Face (1957)

03:14:09 - King of New York (1990)

03:15:10 - Mistress America (2015)

03:16:13 - The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

03:17:15 - Save the Last Dance (2001)

03:18:14 - Elf (2003)

03:19:03 - The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

03:19:16 - Little Sister (2016)

03:21:00 - The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

03:22:04 - Moon (2009)

03:23:12 - The Boondock Saints (1999)

03:26:03 - Monsters University (2013)

03:27:08 - Let’s Be Cops (2014)

03:29:09 - The World’s End (2013)

03:31:04 - Fun Size (2012)

03:32:10 - Spider-Man 3 (2007)

03:34:14 - To Die For (1995)

03:35:16 - The Breakfast Club (1985)

03:37:11 - The Goonies (1985)

03:38:11 - The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

03:39:15 - Blue Valentine (2010)

03:41:01 - Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

03:42:22 - Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

03:43:16 - 13 Going On 30 (2004)

03:44:04 - Wedding Crashers (2005)

03:44:15 - Pitch Perfect (2012)

03:45:07 - Wayne’s World (1992)

03:45:21 - Milk (2008)

03:46:11 - Something Borrowed (2011)

03:47:17 - School of Rock (2003)

03:48:16 - Hitch (2005)

03:49:19 - The Kings of Summer (2013)

03:50:17 - Bling Ring (2013)

03:52:10 - Neighbors (2014)

03:53:04 - Animal House (1978)

03:54:07 - A League of Their Own (1992)

03:55:19 - Hot Rod (2007)

03:57:11 - Zoolander (2001)

03:58:17 - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

03:59:17 - The Great Dictator (1940)

04:01:23 - Charlie’s Angels (2000)

04:03:03 - Romeo + Juliet (1996)

04:04:05 - Kill Your Darlings (2013)

04:05:02 - Amadeus (1984)

04:06:00 - Days of Heaven (1978)

04:10:07 - Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

04:12:15 - The Lobster (2015)

04:14:01 - House of Flying Daggers (2004)

04:15:13 - Big Night (1996)

04:17:23 - Band of Robbers (2015)

04:19:06 - Almost Famous (2000)

04:21:03 - Rain Man (1988)

04:22:15 - Brooklyn (2015)

04:23:10 - The Imitation Game (2014)

04:24:09 - Moulin Rouge! (2001)

04:27:13 - Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

04:29:12 - The Godfather (1972)

04:30:11 - The Sound of Music (1965)

04:32:01 - Dirty Dancing (1987)

04:34:08 - Focus (2015)

04:35:10 - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

04:36:08 - Zombieland (2009)

04:37:07 - Beauty and the Beast (1991)

04:40:23 - The Addams Family (1991)

04:44:06 - Beetlejuice (1988)

04:47:02 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

04:49:12 - Like Crazy (2011)

04:50:09 - End of Watch (2012)

04:51:14 - Pretty in Pink (1986)

04:53:03 - House Party (1990)

04:54:05 - Along Came Polly (2004)

04:55:23 - Some Like it Hot (1959)

04:56:23 - Reality Bites (1994)

04:59:01 - Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

05:01:10 - Obvious Child (2014)

05:02:14 - The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

05:04:14 - Lost in Translation (2003)

05:06:03 - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

05:06:18 - A Clockwork Orange (1974)

05:08:14 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

05:09:16 - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

05:10:18 - Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

05:11:19 - European Vacation (1985)

05:13:02 - The Wizard of Oz (1939)

05:15:04 - The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)

05:16:12 - Three Amigos (1986)

05:18:00 - The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)

05:18:23 - A Night At The Roxbury (1998)

05:20:01 - Coming To America (1988)

05:20:21 - Cinderella (2015)

05:21:17 - About Time (2013)

05:23:16 - Groundhog Day (1993)

05:25:03 - Chef (2014)

05:26:07 - Somewhere (2010)

05:28:08 - Office Space (1999)

05:30:03 - Shall We Dance (2004)

05:31:04 - The Artist (2011)

05:31:18 - The Red Shoes (1948)

05:33:21 - Strictly Ballroom (1992)

05:36:07 - The Turning Point (1977)

05:37:05 - Do the Right Thing (1989)

05:38:03 - Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

05:39:09 - Chicago (2002)

05:41:09 - Footloose (1984)

05:43:17 - When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

05:45:02 - The Producers (1967)

05:46:05 - The Full Monty (1997)

05:47:20 - Back to the Future Part III (1990)

05:49:00 - Dances with Wolves (1990)

05:50:07 - Hook (1991)

05:50:22 - Short Circuit (1986)

05:51:13 - Pulp Fiction (1994)

05:53:08 - Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

05:53:22 - Dazed and Confused (1993)

05:54:20 - From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

05:55:16 - My Golden Days (2015)

05:56:12 - Midnight in Paris (2013)

05:58:21 - The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991)

05:59:12 - The Intouchables (2011)

06:00:10 - Les Misérables (2012)

06:01:08 - A Royal Affair (2012)

06:02:11 - King Kong (2005)

06:03:17 - Happy Feet (2006)

06:04:20 - Tangled (2010)

06:06:01 - Tarzan (1999)

06:07:01 - Top Hat (1935)

06:08:01 - Hail, Caesar (2016)

06:09:05 - Center Stage (2000)

06:10:03 - American Pie (1999)

06:11:10 - A Hard Days Night (1964)

06:12:01 - 45 Years (2015)

06:12:15 - La Dolce Vita (1960)

06:13:10 - O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

06:14:00 - West Side Story (1961)

06:14:20 - Straight Outta Compton (2015)

06:15:12 - La La Land (2016)

06:16:12 - Her (2013)

06:17:08 - Being John Malkovich (1999)

06:18:03 - Flashdance (1983)

06:19:01 - Barton Fink (1991)

06:19:22 - The Artist (2011)

06:24:09 - Casablanca (1942)

06:26:13 - Sunset Boulevard (1950)

06:27:15 - Black Book (2006)

06:28:08 - Edward Scissorhands (1990)

06:29:17 - Labyrinth (1986)

06:31:18 - Short Term 12 (2013)

06:33:18 - When Marnie Was There (2014)

06:36:18 - Before Sunrise (1995)

06:37:15 - Scent of a Woman (1992)

06:39:14 - Sabrina (1954)

06:40:20 - Lolita (1962)

06:41:23 - Schindler’s List (1993)

06:42:14 - Gangs of New York (2002)

06:43:16 - Black Swan (2010)

06:44:23 - Pride and Prejudice (2005)

06:46:15 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

06:48:06 - Up (2009)

06:49:23 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

06:51:05 - Out of Africa (1985)

06:52:22 - Jackie (2016)

06:54:15 - Rushmore (1998)

Igor Stravinsky Remembers the “Riotous” Premiere of His Rite of Spring in 1913: “They Were Very Shocked. They Were Naive and Stupid People.”

It can be a little hard to take the word “riot” seriously when applied to a contentious ballet performance, given how regularly we now see police with machine guns, shields, and tanks rolling down city streets to overpower protesting citizens. But that is the word that has come down to us for the fracas that greeted the debut of Serge Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913. The idea of a riot seems all the more incongruous, and funny, when considered in the light of Jean Cocteau’s description of the crowd:

The smart audience in tails and tulle, diamonds and ospreys, was interspersed with the suits and bandeaux of the aesthetic crowd. The latter would applaud novelty simply to show their contempt for the people in the boxes… Innumerable shades of snobbery, super-snobbery and inverted snobbery were represented.

This Parisian smart set came together on that evening of May 29th expecting “something potentially outrageous,” writes The Telegraph’s classical critic Ivan Hewett. Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes had previously “entranced and shocked Paris.” Stravinsky was acquiring a reputation as a musical provocateur, having built his score for 1910’s The Firebird around the dissonant “Devil’s Interval.” Nonetheless, as the Rocketboom video below, “The Riot of Spring,” explains, audiences packed into the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées had no preparation for what they would see, and hear, when the curtain arose.

And what was that? A “high, almost strangled bassoon melody,” Hewett writes, “soon draped with fluttering, twittering woodwind sounds” set to “pulsating rhythms.” Choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky’s dancers “seemed pulled down to earth. Their strange, jerky movements and awkward poses defied every canon of gracefulness.” The audience reacted immediately, shouting and attacking one another: “canes were brandished like menacing implements of combat all over the theater.” Stravinsky himself remembers the theatergoers reactions with disdain in a short interview excerpt at the top.

“The storm broke,” he says, once the curtain opened on a group of “knock-kneed… Lolitas jumping up and down." The audience "came for Scheherazade or Cleopatra, and they saw Le Sacre du Printemps. They were very shocked. They were very naïve and stupid people.” Did Stravinsky really not anticipate the degree of unrest his weird, dissonant ballet might provoke? It seems not. He hoped it would be a bigger hit than his widely-praised Petrushka of three years earlier. “From all indications,” he had written to set designer Nicholas Roerich, “I can see that this piece is bound to ‘emerge’ in a way that rarely happens.” This proved true, but not at all in the way he meant it.

For his part, writes Hewett, Diaghilev “was hoping for something more than an emergence. He wanted a scandal.” James Wolcott, in his account of the evening, Wild in the Seats, argues that the Russian impresario had “a genius for publicity that wouldn’t be matched until the advent of Andy Warhol and the pop cult of celebrity.” He knew he needed to rattle the “jaded elegants,” who “weren’t going to be stimulated by the same melting, yearning pantomime in pointe shoes.” The Rite of Spring premiere remains the most infamous scandal in the history of ballet to this day.

But while the sophisticates battled it out in the aisles, screaming over the orchestra, pulling down each other’s top hats, it’s said, and challenging each other to duels, a few spectators, Cocteau included, sat entranced by the performance. The work, he later wrote, “is, and will remain, a masterpiece: a symphony impregnated with wild pathos, with earth in the throes of birth, noises of farm and camp, little melodies that come to us out of the depths of the centuries, the panting of cattle, profound convulsions of nature, prehistoric georgics.”

See the opening movements performed above by the Joffrey Ballet in 1987, and imagine yourself in the midst of Paris’s highest society convulsing in a riotous outcry. What was so upsetting? “Perhaps the riot was a sign of disquiet,” Hewett speculates, “a feeling that that the world had lost its moorings, and that barbarism was about to be let loose in the streets.” According to eyewitnesses, some disturbed spectators even called in the police. You can learn much more about this fascinating history at the free Harvard edX course, “Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots.”

Related Content:

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Watch 82-Year-Old Igor Stravinsky Conduct The Firebird, the Ballet Masterpiece That First Made Him Famous (1965)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pre-Flight Safety Demonstration Gets Performed as a Modern Dance: A Creative Video from a Taiwanese Airline

Taiwanese airline EVA Air’s pre-flight safety video is a genuine oddity in a field littered with creative interpretations.

Ten years ago, airlines were straightforward about complying with the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other governing bodies’ requirements.  These instructions were serious business. Children and other first time travelers paid strict attention to information about tray tables, exits, and inflatable life vests that jaded frequent flyers ignored, confident that most take offs and landings tend to go according to plan, and the overwhelming number of planes tend stay in the air for the duration of one's flight.




What about the ones that don't though? There are times when a too-cool-for-school business traveler seated next to an emergency exit could spell disaster for everyone onboard.

Virgin America’s 2007 animated safety video, below, was the first to recapture passengers' attention, with a blasé narrative style that poked fun at the standard tropes:

For the .0001% of you who have never operated a seatbelt before, it works like this…

The cocky tone was dialed down for more critical information, like how to assist the child in the seat next to you when the yellow oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment. (Imagine the mayhem if indie animator Bill Plympton had been in the pilot’s seat for this one…)

The irreverent approach was a hit. The FAA took note, encouraging creativity in a 2010 Advisory Circular:

Every airline passenger should be motivated to focus on the safety information in the passenger briefing; however, motivating people, even when their own personal safety is involved, is not easy. One way to increase passenger motivation is to make the safety information briefings and cards as interesting and attractive as possible.

For a while EVA Air, an innovator whose fleet includes several Hello Kitty Jets, played it safe by sticking to crowd pleasing schtick. Its 2012 CGI safety demo video, below, must’ve played particularly well with the Hello Kitty demographic.

...looks a bit 2012, no?

A few months ago, EVA took things in a direction few industry professionals could’ve predicted: modern dance, performed with utmost sincerity.

Choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, a member of Taiwan’s indigenous Paiwan community, and a small crew of dancers spent three months translating the familiar directives into a vocabulary of symbolic gestures. See the results at the top of the post.

You’ll find none of the stock characters who populate other airlines’ videos here—no sneaky smokers, no concerned moms, no sleepy businesspeople. There’s barely a suggestion of a cabin.

Unfettered by seats or overhead bins, the brightly clad, barefoot dancers leap and roll as they interact with 3D projections, behavior that would certainly summon a flight attendant if performed on an actual plane.

Does it work?

The answer may depend on whether or not the plane on which you’re traveling takes a sudden nose dive.

In “No Joking,” an essay about airport security, University of Ottawa professor Mark B. Salter writes that it is “difficult to motivate passengers to contemplate their own mortality.” The fashion for jokiness in safety videos “naturalizes areas of anxiety,” a mental trick of which Freud was well aware.

What then are we to make of the EVA Air dancer at the 4:35 minute mark, who appears to be falling backward through the night sky?

Would you show a jet's worth of travelers the modern dance equivalent of Airplane 1975, Fearless, or Snakes on a Plane before they taxi down the runway?

Mercifully, the narrator steps in to remind passengers that smoking is prohibited, before the digitally projected dark waters can swallow the writhing soloist up.

There’s also some question as to whether the video adequately addresses the question of tray table operation.

Readers, what do you think? Does this new video make you feel secure about taking flight?

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Scenes from the “Pink Floyd Ballet:” When the Experimental Rock Band Collaborated with Ballet Choreographer Roland Petit (1972)

We all know that rock opera isn’t actually opera. It borrows some of the classical form’s affects—theatrical bombast and loud costuming, which seem a natural fit—but it doesn’t attempt the extreme formal rigor. Rock and roll is loose, intuitive, expressionistic, best played by or to libidinous kids or kids-at-heart; opera is tightly controlled and performed by trained vocal gymnasts to audiences of sophisticates. Both of these forms excel at emotive storytelling, but beyond that, with some rare exceptions, their similarities are mostly cosmetic.

Now imagine not rock opera, but a rock ballet. What could athletic European classical dance contribute to songs about sex and drugs? What could electric guitars, drums, and keyboards do for pirouettes, arabesques, or grand jetés? Part of the problem with such a mashup comes—as noted above—from the intrinsic formal differences between the two. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour put it well when he noted in 1973 that his band found ballet “too restricting for us. I mean, I can’t play and count bars at the same time.”




Yes, there was once a Pink Floyd ballet, or, well, almost. For reasons that may or may not be obvious, the attempt was not popular, and it has not gone down in either rock or ballet history as a memorable event. But it was an interesting experiment, perhaps both more compelling and more incoherent than one might think. An unusual collaboration between the prog-rock superstars and French choreographer Roland Petit, the show first began to take shape in 1970 over a series of lunches and dinner and drinks—as a high-concept adaptation of Proust.

But the composition did not come easily. For one thing, the band couldn’t get through the source material. “David did the worst,” remembers Nick Mason, “he only read the first 18 pages.” Roger Waters reported that he finished “the second volume of Swann’s Way and when I got to the end of it I thought, ‘Fuck this, I’m not reading anymore. I can’t handle it.’ It just went too slowly for me.” A common complaint from attempted readers of Proust. Petit then floated the idea of adapting A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, then Frankenstein. At one point, Roman Polanski and Rudolph Nureyev were attached as director and star. There was talk of a film.

All of these schemes were abandoned, including the plan for original music. “Nureyev, Polanski, and the 108-piece orchestra,” writes Nicholas Schaffner, “were conspicuous in their absence.” In Petit’s eventual piece, performed in Marseilles and Paris in 1972-73, the band “gamely appeared… to provide live renditions of ‘Careful with That Axe Eugene’ and three newer works in which the Syd-less Floyd had at last discovered its raison d'être: ‘Echoes,’ ‘One of These Days,’ and ‘Obscured by Clouds,’” among other existing songs. The whole endeavor was consistent with the band's other extra-curricular forays, into film and musique concrete for example, but the rote recycling of material was not.

The ballet, notes Dangerous Minds, “wasn’t shot live, but an in studio version was produced in 1977.” (You can see a clip from that rather slick artifact at the top of the post.) The other videos you see here come from rehearsals for the live 1973 shows (the clip second from top features interviews with Petit and a shy, French-speaking Gilmour). It's an odd affair: male dancers who all vaguely resemble Bruce Lee—and pull off some Lee-like punches; inexplicable synchronized line dances; dancers forming pairs to the harrowing screams of “Careful with That Axe, Eugene”; and a very contemporary 70s feel overall mark these performances as the kind of thing likely to feel deeply unsatisfying to connoisseurs of either Pink Floyd or the ballet.

Who, exactly, one wonders, was the audience for this? Maybe you'll get some sense of the appeal in the brief interviews and commentary from the French journalists in this rehearsal footage. Or perhaps a program from one of the Marseille performances sheds more light on the intentions behind this production. Petit did supposedly say, “It all began in the late ‘60s. One day my daughter… gave me an album by Pink Floyd and said, 'Dad, you have to make a ballet with this music.'” After some initial skepticism, “when I heard the music,” he remembers, “I agreed with my daughter.” Perhaps he simply couldn’t refuse her a request.

Those who did attend these shows may have been delighted, confused, bored, enraged, or some combination of any of these emotions and more besides. As for the band’s struggles, Gilmour admits, “we had to have someone sitting on stage with us with a piece of paper telling us what bar we were playing.” (Before you make a joke about how rock musicians can’t count, bear in mind most classical players can’t improvise.) At the end, however, audiences wouldn’t have been left wanting. “The ballet climaxed,” Schaffner writes, “with a typically Floydian flourish: ten cans of oil exploding like fireballs from the front of the stage.”

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The “Lost” Pink Floyd Soundtrack for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Only American Film, Zabriskie Point (1970)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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