I'm having trouble embedding it, but seriously, go watch Steve Martin parodying the Billie Jean video. If Michael's gift was his grace, Martin's is his awkwardness, and his utter lack of fear in exploiting it for our pleasure. The video makes Michael's talent clear by showing how awkward and gawky those moves would have been if they were performed by anyone else.
Parenthetically, things like that video make me wonder what's going on in Martin's head as he's made his recent career choices. In the last ten years, he's made two very different good movies, Shopgirl
, which broke my heart, and is based on the tiny gem of a book that Martin also wrote, and Bowfinger
, his savagely funny takedown of Hollywood. And his memoir, Born Standing Up
, is sharply observed, and one of the best explanations of how comedic sensibility grows that I've ever read (Martin, like Jackson, was also abused by his father, though only once physically, the rest was emotional. He writes in Born Standing Up
: "I have heard it said that a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts. I tell you this story of my father and me to let you know I am qualified to be a comedian," a sentiment both self-aware and deeply painful.) But there's been a lot of trash in between. It's hard to know how the guy who made stuff like The Jerk
and All of Me
ended up making Cheaper By the Dozen
and the horrendous Pink Panther
remakes. I don't know why it is that few great stars, in any genre, seems to survive into late adulthood with their artistic sensibilities intact. There are exceptions, of course, people like Clint Eastwood, Neil Young, whoever. But there are a lot of dramatic, puzzling falls to observe.