The Smokestacks from Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” Music VideoAug 21st, 2013 | By Lindsay | Category: Michael Jackson Locations
Back in July, while doing research on the seaside mansion where Beau Burroughs lived in Rumor Has It (which I blogged about here), I came across a website called 80s Film Locations (that I later learned is run by fellow stalker Marc, of the Washington State Film Locations website) and noticed that it had a tab for Michael Jackson’s 1991 “Black or White” music video. Immediately intrigued, I clicked on the link and was floored to discover that the address for the spot where the King of Pop danced in front of smokestacks – a site that I had always wondered about – was listed. And even though I was a bit uncertain about the locale, due to the fact that certain elements visible in the background of the video did not match up to what appeared on Google Street View, I was BEYOND excited to stalk it and dragged the Grim Cheaper right on out to do so that very weekend. Fellow stalker Owen, of the When Write Is Wrong blog, later helped me verify that the location was indeed the right place.
As so often happens whilst stalking, Marc found this location while searching for a different one and did not even realize that he had stumbled upon it until later. During a hunt for sites from the 1984 teen comedy The Wild Life, Marc tracked down Surplus City Jeep Parts – where Jim Conrad (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) attempted to purchase weapons – at 11796 Sheldon Street in Sun Valley.
While looking at the building on Google Street View, he happened to take note of a large set of distinct-looking smokestacks located directly across the street.
Later, while tracking down “Black or White” filming locations, he remembered those smokestacks and, sure enough, they were a match to the ones that Michael Jackson had danced in front of.
The scene that takes place in front of the smokestacks, in which MJ performs a 23-second traditional Indian Odissi dance, just so happens to be my favorite in the entire video.
What I could not figure out while stalking the smokestacks or from Google Street View was the exact spot where the King of Pop stood during the sequence. It was not until sitting down to write this post that I was finally able to pinpoint it. On his “Black or White” page, Marc had included a screen capture from “Black or White: Behind the Scenes” – a featurette about the making of the iconic video that was included on the Dangerous: The Short Films DVD. That screen cap, which shows the smokestack scene from the opposite angle from which it was shot, is pictured below. It was the structure visible in the top right of the capture that I was having trouble identifying. (In the screen capture, you can see that fake pyrotechnical smokestacks were installed directly behind MJ for the filming.)
Thankfully, Owen was able to identify the structure as the building located at 11800 Sheldon Street, just west of the Surplus City Jeep Parts site.
Still not entirely convinced, I sat down to watch “Black or White: Behind the Scenes” once again to see if I could spot any other background clues. And thankfully, I did! (You can watch “Black or White: Behind the Scenes” by clicking below. The sequence that takes place at the smokestacks begins at 0:44.)
After what seemed like hours of trying, I was finally able to pause the featurette at a point at which some sort of business sign was visible. Once I managed to do that and look more closely at the image, I immediately recognized the sign as the Surplus City sign that appeared in The Wild Life. As you can see below, the size and the shape of the sign match what appeared in the 1985 flick and the word “surplus” is also somewhat visible.
From there, I was able to pinpoint that Michael was standing in the spot denoted with a pink X below in the video.
As fate would have it, I had posed for a picture, in which I re-created MJ’s Odissi dance, in almost that exact spot while I was stalking the smokestacks. Talk about luck! Had I moved just slightly to the right, I would have been dead on.
While doing research on the smokestack location, I had come across a very poor-quality Channel 4 news special hosted by David Sheehan about the filming of “Black or White,” in which MJ was shown walking from his trailer to the set. I sent the video along to Owen and he used his magic to pinpoint where Michael walked in the segment, which turned out to be near the western side of the Surplus City building. Amazingly enough, despite the fact that the site is no longer home to Surplus City, it still looks very much the same today as it did in 1991 when “Black or White” was filmed! (For whatever reason, though, the address of the building has since been changed from 11796 to 11782, as is visible below.) As you can see, the door that MJ walked by, while no longer painted green, is still intact.
The building’s four-panel window, which has since been painted over, is also still intact.
Most amazing of all, though, is that, minus the addition of a mailbox, the telephone pole (denoted with a pink arrow), metal bar in front of it (denoted with a blue arrow), and two signs posted on it (denoted with purple and green arrows) all still look EXACTLY the same!
As does the red bar that sticks up out of the sidewalk. SO INCREDIBLY COOL!
Ironically enough, when Jim leaves Surplus City in The Wild Life, he walks by the exact same area that Michael Jackson walked by in the Channel 4 news special.
You can watch the Channel 4 news “Black or White” special by clicking below.
Marc also let me know that Surplus City was used in the 1985 classic Commando, as the spot John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) broke into to go “shopping” for weapons and supplies.
The structure was dressed quite significantly for the filming, though. Besides adding quite a bit of neon, it appears that producers also constructed a small annex on the side of the building for the shoot.
You can watch Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video by clicking below.
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Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The smokestack scene from Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” music video was shot on Sheldon Street in Sun Valley. I believe that the exact spot where the King of Pop stood in the video is just slightly east of the building at 11800 Sheldon Street, in the area denoted with a pink X below.