Letter to the Editor. Michael Jackson and the "Smooth Criminal" music video: special effects

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TO THE EDITOR: I read with interest the article by Yagnick et al.1 (Yagnick NS, Tripathi M, Mohindra S: How did Michael Jackson challenge our understanding of spine biomechanics? J Neurosurg Spine 29:344–345, September 2018).

I felt that I should make you aware of the real history regarding Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” dancing technique and the “leaning effect” to which the authors of the article refer.

The five dancers were all dressed in “fly belts” under their suit clothes, to which were attached fine piano wires at their hips. These wires extended through their jackets and were connected to a fly arbor and then by cable to a set of pulleys overhead in the stage grid. It is possible to see a subtle crease in Michael’s white jacket as he leans. The cables extended across the network to another set of pulleys and then down to five special effects men, who used the cables to lower and raise the five leaning dancers to the music and dance step in unison.

Each dancer had one shoe built with a slot plate in the heel that could slide onto a peg in the dance floor to help provide stability; however, the weight of each leaning dancer was held up by the wire fly rigging and the individual operators. Without this proper rigging, the dancers’ shoes alone would not have permitted them to achieve this iconic dance sequence.

I supervised the special effects in the filming of the “Smooth Criminal” music video. I handled Michael for this routine. My company, Filmtrix, Inc., developed this gag, including construction of the shoes for all five dancers and the overhead fly rigging, as well as production of all special effects for this film.

There will always be new and different inventive ways to move the body in dance. The necessary inclusion of these mechanisms to prevent injury to the spine is very important.

The authors’ conclusion in their paper still applies.

Disclosures

The author reports no conflict of interest.

References

1

Yagnick NSTripathi MMohindra S: How did Michael Jackson challenge our understanding of spine biomechanics? J Neurosurg Spine 29:3443452018

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INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online December 21, 2018; DOI: 10.3171/2018.10.SPINE181166.

Response

We are humbled by Mr. Pike’s attention to our article and we appreciate his description of the filming of the music video “Smooth Criminal.”

The “antigravity” dance move featured in the music video became so popular that Michael Jackson wanted to re-create the move in live shows. Because the use of piano wires or any other wire mechanism was extremely difficult in front of a live audience, Michael Jackson (MJ) with his co-inventors, Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins (the fashion designers behind MJ’s iconic silver glove and jacket), developed a unique shoe mechanism, which when used by dancers with strong core-strength training, could accomplish the antigravity lean without the use of wires.

Historically speaking, Mr. Pike’s statement that piano wires were used to supplement the shoe mechanism in the music video is a very interesting addition to our research. We did not find any evidence that the shoe mechanism patented by MJ and his co-inventors was used in the “Smooth Criminal” music video, and thus we now believe that it was only invented after the release of the video. Our belief is based on the fact that the “Smooth Criminal” music video was filmed in 1987 and released in 1988, whereas the patent for the antigravity shoe was first submitted in 1992. In fact, Michael Jackson performed the song “Smooth Criminal” in his “Bad World Tour” during 1988 and 1989, but he did not perform the antigravity lean (see videos listed below). It was not until 1992 that the antigravity move was introduced during MJ’s “Dangerous World Tour,” by which time he had co-invented the shoe mechanism for successful live performances (see videos). This timing coincides with the filing of the official patent,2 which mentions the following:

. . . to the best of our knowledge and belief the prior art does not disclose or suggest the specialized footwear permitting an entertainer to freely move about a stage, while at the same time, enabling engagement with a movable hitch or post, projectable through the stage floor, to enable the illusion to be performed.2

If what Mr. Pike writes is correct, it is possible that the idea of the shoe was picked up by MJ and modified to eliminate the need for piano wires in the live shows. As a corollary, it begs us to ask why Mr. Pike or his team was not included as inventors in the patent for the shoe. And if this is the real story, then perhaps a great injustice was done to Mr. Pike and his team when the patent was filed.

In any case, we are not historians and claim no authority with regards to the same. As scientists however, we disagree with Mr. Pike that the move cannot be pulled off without the help of a wire mechanism. The combination of shoe mechanism and dancer training is adequate to accomplish the move, as evidenced by its later replication by dancers other than MJ.

In fact, while performing in Moscow, MJ himself took a dangerous fall when the shoe peg was improperly affixed to the stage and could not support his forward lean.1 Such a mishap would not have occurred if there had been a wire mechanism in place during the live shows.

The point raised by Mr. Pike is an excellent example of what it takes to create “magic” on stage. It fits in well with our educative efforts to dancers. Our studies are a scientific analysis of spinal biomechanics in dance moves. We have also used this as a platform to educate dance enthusiasts regarding spinal biomechanics and the secrets behind showmanship.

For the readers, we have included the following list of videos of live performances by Michael Jackson featuring “Smooth Criminal” with or without the famous antigravity lean. We hope the readers will enjoy them and note the difference the antigravity lean makes.

References

  • 1

    Fabiosa: Secret shoe mechanism allowed Michael Jackson to perform the 45-degree dance move. Fabiosa.com. (https://fabiosa.com/lbmkt-aumgr-pbdmt-phdlkh-secret-shoe-mechanism-allowed-michael-jackson-to-perform-the-45-degree-dance-move/) [Accessed November 5 2018]

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  • 2

    Jackson MJBush MLTompkins Dinventors: Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion. US patent 5255452. October 26 1993.

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Article Information

Correspondence Kevin Pike: filmtrix@mac.com.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online December 21, 2018; DOI: 10.3171/2018.9.SPINE181165.

Disclosures The author reports no conflict of interest.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.

Headings

References

  • 1

    Yagnick NSTripathi MMohindra S: How did Michael Jackson challenge our understanding of spine biomechanics? J Neurosurg Spine 29:3443452018

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 1

    Fabiosa: Secret shoe mechanism allowed Michael Jackson to perform the 45-degree dance move. Fabiosa.com. (https://fabiosa.com/lbmkt-aumgr-pbdmt-phdlkh-secret-shoe-mechanism-allowed-michael-jackson-to-perform-the-45-degree-dance-move/) [Accessed November 5 2018]

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 2

    Jackson MJBush MLTompkins Dinventors: Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion. US patent 5255452. October 26 1993.

    • Export Citation

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