The Cinematic Influences of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”

Michael Jackson’s music video for “Smooth Criminal” is a masterpiece that has entertained and inspired generations of fans. The video, which has been viewed over 115 million times on YouTube, is known for its unique cinematic style, impressive dance choreography, and Michael’s iconic white suit. However, what many people don’t know is that “Smooth Criminal” was heavily influenced by classic films, and pays homage to some of the greatest cinematic icons of all time. In this article, we will take a closer look at the cinematic influences behind “Smooth Criminal.”

The Film Noir genre

The “Smooth Criminal” video opens with a dramatic shot of a dark and rainy city street. This is a direct reference to the Film Noir genre, which was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Film Noir is known for its gritty and cynical portrayal of crime and detective stories, with themes of betrayal, corruption, and the anti-hero. The black and white cinematography, the use of shadows, and the moody atmosphere are all hallmarks of Film Noir. Michael Jackson was a fan of Film Noir, and the “Smooth Criminal” video pays tribute to this classic style.

The Fred Astaire influence

Michael Jackson was known for his incredible dancing skills, and he admired many of the great dancers who came before him. One of his biggest influences was Fred Astaire, the legendary dancer and actor who starred in many classic films. Astaire was known for his effortless grace and smooth moves, and his influence can be seen throughout the “Smooth Criminal” video. In fact, the famous lean move that Michael does in the video was inspired by a similar trick that Astaire did in one of his films.

The Busby Berkeley aesthetic

Another classic film influence on the “Smooth Criminal” video is the work of Busby Berkeley, the famous Hollywood choreographer and director. Berkeley was known for his elaborate and visually stunning dance sequences, which often involved large groups of dancers and intricate formations. The “Smooth Criminal” video features a similar aesthetic, with Michael and his backup dancers performing synchronized moves in front of a massive mirror. The use of mirrors and geometric patterns is a hallmark of Berkeley’s style, and Michael’s choreography pays tribute to this classic Hollywood icon.

The Alfred Hitchcock references

Alfred Hitchcock is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and his influence can be seen throughout the “Smooth Criminal” video. One of the most obvious nods to Hitchcock is the use of the iconic bird motif. In several of Hitchcock’s films, including “The Birds” and “Psycho,” birds are used as symbols of danger and impending doom. In the “Smooth Criminal” video, a flock of birds flies out of a window, adding to the sense of chaos and tension. Additionally, the climactic scene in which Michael and his dancers perform a high-energy routine while being shot at by gangsters is reminiscent of the famous crop-duster scene in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

The Bob Fosse influence

Bob Fosse was a legendary dancer, choreographer, and director who played a major role in shaping the American musical theater scene. Michael Jackson was a huge fan of Fosse’s work, and he incorporated many of Fosse’s signature moves into his own choreography. In the “Smooth Criminal” video, you can see elements of Fosse’s style in the jazz hands, the hat-tipping, and the hip-swiveling moves. These movements are all characteristic of Fosse’s iconic choreography, and Michael’s tribute to Fosse is a testament to his admiration for this Broadway legend.

In conclusion, Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” is more than just a music video; it is a stunning tribute to some of the greatest cinema icons of all time. From Film Noir to Fred Astaire, from Busby Berkeley to Alfred Hitchcock and Bob Fosse, the video references a range of classic film styles and pays homage to the legendary artists who helped shape them. Whether you’re a fan of music, dance, or cinema, “Smooth Criminal” will always hold a special place in the hearts of fans around the world.