MJ Studies Today XCVI

Abstract: This month’s MJ Studies Today column (#96) discusses the creative impact of Michael Jackson on two Spanish filmmakers, Marcos Cabotá and Joan Bover, and their films Sonic Fantasy and Dear Michael respectively. Based on viewings of both films, and a transcript of Dear Michael, our columnist Kerry Hennigan looks at Cabotá’s engagement, both directly and indirectly with Jackson, which inspired not only his own work, but has resulted in Bover’s own award-winning and Goya-nominated documentary short film.


Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the free monthly newsletter A Candle for Michael, administrator of the fan group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film Ghosts” on Facebook, and an MJ blogger on WordPress. Kerry is a student of Ancient, Early Medieval and Medieval History, Anthropology and Religious Studies and has Certificates in the Archaeology of the Ancient World and the Archaeology of Ancient Britain from Cambridge University in the UK. Her current studies are focused on the Viking Age.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XCVI: ‘There was no going back.’ – How Michael Jackson inspired the creativity of one filmmaker and prompted an award-winning documentary short film by another.“ (14-12-2023). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol 10, No. 2 (2023). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xcvi/


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“There was no going back.” – How Michael Jackson inspired the creativity of one filmmaker and prompted an award-winning documentary short film by another.  By Kerry Hennigan

Photo collage © Kerry Hennigan

Motown Records founder Berry Gordy described Michael Jackson as “The greatest entertainer that ever lived.” [1] To his fans around the world, that much is obvious from seeing Jackson’s talents of singing/songwriting, dancing and crafting a life show. One step, and in some cases more than one generation behind Michael, are countless other creative individuals who have been inspired by him. Spanish filmmaker Marcos Cabotá is one such individual, as he acknowledges in an open letter to Michael which has become the subject of its own award-winning documentary short film.

Premiering in 2022 at Barcelona’s In-Edit Film Festival where it won in the Best Short Film category, Dear Michael is the creation of another Spanish director/producer, Joan Bover, and is based on Cabotá’s letter to Jackson. [2] As depicted in the film, Cabotá delivers his letter to the gates of the pop icon’s former home of Neverland in California. He narrates the contents of the letter as he drives to the ranch through the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley, a place of pilgrimage for Jackson fans from all over the globe.

The letter details Cabotá’s firsthand experience of Jackson’s ability to inspire and influence creativity in others. This ability is one of the great strengths of the artist’s legacy which has well and truly outlived him. It is exactly the sort of immortality that Jackson wished for when he said “Who wants mortality? Everybody wants immortality…You want what you create to live, be it sculpture or painting or music. Like Michelangelo said, ‘I know the creator will go but his work survives. That’s why to escape death I attempt to bind my soul to my work.’ That’s how I feel. I give my all at work. ‘Cause I want it to just live.” [3]

The work of artists, musicians, fashion designers, filmmakers, writers and others testifies to the realisation of Jackson’s wish: his work has made him immortal, and has inspired countless others to strive for perfection in their own creative endeavours. Cabotá’s own portfolio as a filmmaker includes his Jackson-related documentary: Sonic Fantasy, which details the making of Michael’s biggest selling album, and the world’s biggest selling album of all time, i.e. “Thriller.” The film’s title relates to the work of celebrated recording engineer, the late Bruce Swedien (1934-2020), who engineered material for all of Jackson’s adult albums, beginning with “Off the Wall” in 1979 through to “Invincible” in 2001. [4]

Following Sonic Fantasy like a codicil, Joan Bover’s Dear Michael documentary short explains Cabotá’s fascination for his subject, which began with his introduction to the Thriller short film on television at the age of three. That might have been the end of it, but fate, and Michael Jackson, deemed otherwise when some years later the future filmmaker and a pal saw Moonwalker at the cinema. In Cabotá’s own words, they emerged from the cinema dancing! From then on, he says, “there was no going back.” [5]

Now he longed to see his idol perform live, but it was not until 1999 and the charity concert “Michael Jackson and Friends” in Munich, Germany, that he had the opportunity. Then came Jackson’s 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden on 10 September 2001. Next day, Cabotá and friends found themselves marooned in New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre that morning. As Cabotá recalls, “My friends and I felt lost, we were stranded in New York.” [6]

At a frightening time in a world suddenly turned upside down, Michael Jackson was concerned about the wellbeing of his fans – some having travelled long distances, including from overseas, to attend his concert the previous night. “You took care of us when we needed it most, and nobody asked you to,” Cabotá confirms in Dear Michael. [7] Other stranded fans have told similar stories – of Jackson leaving his security guard to look out for the fans, giving them a hotel room and his credit card, and offering to bus fans out of the city on coaches. [8]

Cabotá’s final encounter with Jackson was during Michael’s visit to London in 2006 for the World Music Awards. There is a photograph of the two of them taken on this occasion – surely the most cherished item in the filmmaker’s sizeable collection of MJ memorabilia – much of which appears in Dear Michael’s visuals, in what is a delightful collage of home movie footage, still photography and animation. [9]

Both Cabotá’s Sonic Fantasy and Bover’s Dear Michael have won critical praise on the international film festival circuit. While Jackson fans might grumble at having to wait (impatiently, no doubt) for a chance to view these projects on readily available streaming platforms, the festivals have provided the opportunity for both films to be peer reviewed, adding weight to their integrity as documentaries.

Dear Michael was recently nominated for the Goya Awards, the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars. In November 2023, Cabotá posted on Twitter/X: “A year ago I wrote a letter to Michael. I gave him everything I had left to tell him. This letter is now a Candidate for the Goya Awards in the form of a Documentary Short Film. I hope Michael knows somehow… ” Many Jackson fans responded confidently, “He knows.” [10]

  Dear Michael
A documentary short film directed by Joan Bover

Based on a letter of Marcos Cabotá

In loving memory of Michael Jackson
 

Kerry Hennigan
14 December 2023

Postscript:

Marcos Cabotá spoke to academics Karin Merx and Elizabeth Amisu on the podcast “Michael Jackson’s Dream Lives On” which you can access in the Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies at https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/episode-57/ [11]

Sources:

[1]  Gordy, Berry. “New Introduction to the 2009 re-issued edition.” Moonwalk, by Michael Jackson. Harmony Books 2009 hardcover edition.

[2]  Joan Bover, Director and Producer. Official website https://joanbover.com/en

[3]  Monroe, Bryan. “The immortality of Michael Jackson” CNN. Published electronically Fri June 27, 2014. https://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/25/opinion/monroe-michael-jackson-five-years-later/index.html Retrieved 4 Dec 2023.

[4] Sonic Fantasy directed by Marcos Cabotá. Official website. https://www.sonicfantasymovie.com/

[5] Dear Michael screened briefly on the director’s private channel on Vimeo in November 2023. All details and direct quotes used in this article come from viewings of the film and a transcript of the narration. Official website: https://dearmichaelfilm.com/en/

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] True Michael Jackson. “The Fans” https://www.truemichaeljackson.com/man/fans/ Retrieved 4 Dec 2023.

[9]  Marcos Cabotá on Twitter. https://twitter.com/MarcosCabota/status/1724846449412759724 Retrieved 16 Nov 2023.

[10]  Ibid. https://twitter.com/MarcosCabota/status/1723230558304522410 Retrieved 16 Nov 2023.

[11]  Merx, Karin, and Elizabeth Amisu. “Episode 57 – An Interview with film director Marcos Cabotá” Podcast, Michael Jackson’s Dream Lives On: An Academic Conversation 9, no. 4 (2022). Published electronically 25/06/2022. https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/episode-57

Illustration: “a letter to Michael” created by Kerry Hennigan using a professional concert photograph of Michael Jackson and PhotoScape X Pro software. No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.