Lee brings Michael Jackson “Bad” magic to big screen
* “Bad 25” is documentary on making of Jackson album
* Spike Lee calls it his “love letter” to singer http://myetvmedia.com/film-review/bad25-spike-lees-love-letter-to-michael-jackson/
* Jackson obsessed by detail, at height of his powers
* Film borders on hagiography, has great performances
VENICE, Aug 31 (Reuters) – Spike Lee’s film about the making of Michael Jackson’s 1987 album “Bad” may border on hagiography at times, but live footage and the singer’s attention to detail when at the peak of his powers are a reminder of why he remains the “King of Pop”.
The two-hour documentary called “Bad 25”, which has its world premiere at the Venice film festival on Friday, is a familiar mix of talking heads – choreographers, producers and stars – and film of concerts, rehearsals and music videos.
Released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s acclaimed follow-up to “Thriller”, Lee provides few surprises for Jackson aficionados, but paints a picture of a genius at work who cared about every step of the production process.
“I think that it was too many years we’ve … concentrated on stuff about Michael Jackson that had nothing to do with the music,” Lee told reporters, 25 years to the day after Bad hit the shelves.
The documentary, which Lee called his “love letter” to Jackson, has the backing both of the singer’s estate and his record label, giving Lee access to many of the key players in the making of what is regarded as a milestone album.
“It was a chance to really dig into his creative process,” he added.
“We all are blessed with the final work, but it’s rare that you get to see how something is put together. We just see the final product. We don’t see the blood, sweat and tears, all the work that goes into how the masters work.”
Among the novelties is footage taken by Jackson himself, using a handheld camera, of Siedah Garrett singing “Man in the Mirror”, the song she co-wrote for the star, a cappella save for an off-camera clicking of fingers laying down the beat.
There are also small yet enlightening insights and hints as to Jackson’s true character, be it his interest in women, competitive spirit, professional drive or obsession over the smallest riff and dance step.
Garrett, for example, recalls how Jackson playfully threw popcorn at her as she tried to record “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, earning her, but not Jackson, a sharp rebuke from the onlooking producer Quincy Jones.
“NOT OF THIS WORLD”
Sheryl Crow said she was often asked whether Jackson became aroused when they performed a raunchy rendition of the song on his record-breaking “Bad” tour. She did not provide an answer.
Actress Tatiana Thumbtzen speculated that mint on the singer’s breath suggested he may have been prepared for a kiss at the end of the “The Way You Make Me Feel” video, despite strict instructions only to embrace the singer.
Lawyer John Branca, who administers Jackson’s estate following his death aged 50 in 2009, recalled a meeting Jackson arranged with his arch-rival Prince.
“It was not a happy meeting,” he said, adding Prince had brought along a “voodoo box” which Jackson feared meant he was trying to cast a spell on him.
That rivalry was part of a competitive streak in Jackson that drove him to try to top the sensational success of his 1982 album “Thriller”, still the best-selling album of all time, with Bad five years later.
He even scrawled “100,000,000” on his mirror to remind him of his target. While industry estimates vary widely, Thriller is estimated to have sold between 60-110 million copies worldwide, while Bad went on to sell 30-45 million.
Nothing, it seemed, was too trival. In one sequence, Jackson comically re-enacts exactly how he wants two animated characters who feature in a commercial to behave.
On a more serious level, Lee explores how Jackson’s Afro-American roots were important to him, despite his gradually transforming facial features that made him appear more Caucasian.
Several interviewees could not contain their tears as they remembered when they heard of Jackson’s passing, and several voiced their conviction at the time that it was not true.
Crow was among those who struggled to explain Jackson’s talent. “The molecules changed in the room,” she said of his presence. “He changed the molecules.”
Near the end of Bad 25 there is a memorable live performance of “Man in the Mirror”, after which Jackson holds his hands aloft to form the shape of a cross.
“Michael’s not here to answer that. I cannot say he’s trying to be Jesus Christ,” Lee said in answer to a reporter’s question.
“I’m not going to say that Michael was saying he was Jesus Christ, but you look at that performance – he’s somewhere else. That’s one of the greatest performances ever. You see the way Michael’s singing that song, he is not of this world.” (Editing by Steve Addison)
The 69th Venice Film Festival continues through Sept. 8. Information: http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/
“Bad 25” features informal footage shot by Jackson himself and recordings of his vocal exercises. There are also interviews with personalities he influenced — including Mariah Carey, Cee Lo Green, Kanye West and even Justin Bieber.
Lee’s two-hour artistic tribute completely dismisses the tabloid reports of Jackson’s bizarre personal life, his pet monkey, plastic surgery and oxygen tank.
“It’s like saying there’s a cobweb on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” says producer-composer Quincy Jones early on in “Bad 25.”
The documentary gives a blow-by-blow account of how the “Bad” album came about, focusing on the music videos for a more visual moviegoer experience.
Director Martin Scorsese is interviewed at the start about his 18-minute video for the “Bad” single, shot in the New York subway. Scorsese confesses that Michael’s signature crotch touch was a surprise to him — and kept it in because it didn’t look inappropriate.
We hear of Jackson’s rivalry with Prince, and their frosty meeting, at which Prince appeared with a voodoo box that Jackson was convinced would put a spell on him.
Jackson had a motivational message of “100 million albums” which he inscribed in a mirror even before “Bad” came out, so determined was he to match and exceed the popularity of the previous album “Thriller.” His record producer also notes that Jackson had a business mind and would count his royalties.
Many segments are devoted to Jackson’s dance moves and choreographies. The film shows his well-publicized admiration of Fred Astaire and classic musicals, as well as of the more recent “All That Jazz.”
The movie ends with participants describing where they were when they heard of his death. The final shots, taken at the end of a mega-concert, are of Jackson saluting the audience with his arms stretched out in a crucifixion-like position.
“For me, this is a love letter to Michael,” said Lee, in a “Bad” T-shirt and a black beret, at a Venice news conference after the screening.
Lee said he and Jackson were close in age, and he related to the pop star: “I had the afro, the look, but singing and dancing: that’s where it stopped.”
One of the main reasons he did the film was because its producers “wanted to just concentrate on the music,” he said,
Lee heard of Jackson’s death while speaking at a Cannes conference. He flew back to the U.S. and was “out of it” for months, he said. Realizing he only had one Jackson album on his digital player, Lee bought every CD the star recorded and for the next year only played his music.
Spike Lee: Michael Jackson was determined
21 August 2012
Director Spike Lee was surprised to learn how “self-motivated” the late Michael Jackson was.
Spike has put together a commemorative documentary on the King of Pop entitled Bad 25 in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Michael’s 1987 hit record Bad.
The filmmaker was impressed with Michael’s dedication to his music.
“I learned that, number one, he was very self-motivated,” Spike told MTV News. “Even though it was an impossible task, Michael wanted Bad to outsell Thriller. And everywhere he’d go, he’d put up signs, write on mirrors in bathrooms: ‘100 million.’
“He always wanted to surpass what he had done previously and 100 million albums sold. He was determined to do that.”
Bad went on to sell around 30 million copies internationally.
The record is also the fifth highest selling album in history.
Epic Records will release Bad 25, which included the original album, unreleased demo songs, Spike’s documentary, concert footage and remixes, on September 18.
You’ve done a lot of TV.
I’ve done a lot of documentaries for HBO and I’m doing another documentary called “Bad 25” which is about the making of Michael Jackson’s Bad album and we’re going to finish it for the film festival.
And they’re giving you a lifetime achievement award.
A nice watch.
How does it feel to be receiving a lifetime achievement award at 55?
[long pause] Better than when I’m dead [laughs heartily].
Speaking of “Bad 25,” I noticed some irony. You have this 1986 New York Times profile framed in your offices and in it you give Michael shit for dating Brooke Shields and Elizabeth Taylor and never having a black woman on his arm.
I’ve always loved Michael. I mean, all the stuff he did never affected my appreciation for his music and that’s what the film’s about, his music, the Bad album. [Michael Jackons’s estate] wanted to do Bad, they’re going to do all three eventually… So the great thing about it if the estate comes I have access to Michael’s…they’re opening up all of his archives, there’s stuff in this film that no one’s ever seen before, ever, ever.
Is that going to hit theaters in the U.S.?
Well they’re still trying to work it out how it’s going to be seen.
It’s a landmark album, you’ve got the Scorsese video [he directed the video for “Bad”].
Yeah, we filmed Scorsese watching the video, he hadn’t seen it in 20 years.
You shot at least one of his videos.
Two. I did two versions of “They Don’t Care About Us,” we shot one in Brazil and one here. Then the one after Michael died, “This is it.” Not the documentary but the video.
Looking back on your body of work, how do you see it? What are your favorites? What doesn’t work for you?
The only thing that makes me wince is “She’s Gotta Have It.”