Last summer, I added Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video to the music analysis/research unit of my English 102 curriculum. As most of my readers know, my classes have been dissecting the “Black or White” video for years. More recently, I had added “Earth Song” to the curriculum, but had also debated the idea for some time of adding “Bad” which I felt could make an interesting companion piece to “Black or White”‘s racial themes. I had started using “Bad” in American Lit to help illustrate and enrich the theme of Langston Hughes’s essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, and having had much success there, felt inspired to add it to English 102 (also, I had spent the better part of the summer writing on the “Bad” short film and the story of Edmund Perry myself for an upcoming anthology collection on Jackson’s works) so perhaps I was feeling especially inspired to discuss it in the classroom. In any event, however, I have discovered as an educator that Michael Jackson’s songs and short films-many of them replete with social conscious messages that still resonate with us today, and what’s more, remain relevant today-are important works for facilitating analytical class discussions and debates.
On that note, I wanted to share with you an exceptionally insightful essay written by Bethany Pittman, who used Elizabeth Amisu’s excellent analysis as one of her required sources:
The Superhero in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” by Bethany Pittman
Released on September 7, 1987, Michael Jackson’s pop funk song “Bad” was a number one hit within one month. Originally written to be a duet, it was included on the album Bad and was received with mixed reviews from members of the black community. Many were unsure what to think about the video; however, Jackson’s intent was to improve the relationships between the black and white communities. Jackson’s character, Daryl, is an embodiment of both these communities and the consequences he faces because of that. By comparing Jackson’s character in “Bad” to Harry Potter and Superman, Elizabeth Amisu is painting him as a superhero – one that is creating a radical, cultural movement in the black community.
It is clear that the video is making a statement in the black community even from the first scene. Jackson’s character is one attending an all white school where he is doing exceptionally well academically. Later in the video when he is surrounded by his black friends he is mocked for this; attending this school is something that is simply unacceptable for his friends since it puts blacks and whites on the same level. His friends believe that the white community is filled with snobby rich people, completely opposite of the environment in which they have been raised. During the train scene, the sole black female has her head and eyes covered while looking down. The rest of the white males and females are uncovered and looking out of the windows. Jackson’s character does the same, showing that he is used to being immersed in the white community regardless of his skin color. These two examples show to the audience that it is possible for the black and white communities to exist together without harm; this even creates a more educated black community in the case of Edmund Perry. Based on the true story experiences of Edmund Perry, “Bad” showcases a black male standing up to his friends for what he believes is the right thing to do.
Continuing on through the beginning of the music video Jackson’s character undergoes peer pressure from his friends. When Jackson’s character says that he does not want to participate, his friend repeatedly asks him “Are you bad?” This is paired with taunting about how Jackson’s character has lost his respect with his friends by being sent to a “sissy school” within the white community. In her article, Amisu claims that Jackson’s character “is going from safety to conflict”, the “safety” being the upper class school, and “conflict” being Daryl’s home and friends (Amisu). She compares this transfer of protection and shelter to Harry Potter’s first train ride to Hogwarts. While Daryl is returning to his home where he was raised and Potter is departing to Hogwarts for the first time, they are both faced with challenges once they reach their destination. They both are moving between different communities with different societal standards and cultural norms. By drawing this conclusion, Amisu is presenting the audience with the idea that Daryl is accepted in both communities, furthering a cultural movement in the black community.
Amisu goes on to show this bilateral personification of Daryl in her analysis of his clothing during the dancing scenes. She states that “Jackson is simultaneously Clark Kent and Superman, both a shy introvert and an inspiring showman” (Amisu). The “shy introvert” is referring to Jackson’s character at school. He is one that follows the rules and excels academically; one that pays attention in class and is eager to learn. The “inspiring showman” in Daryl is brought out when his friend continues to taunt him and ask him “Are you bad?” Daryl is frustrated and shows that he is indeed “bad” by performing inspiring and insistent dance sequences throughout the video. Much like Superman, Daryl is existent and accepted in two completely opposite communities. Rather than the civilian and superhero communities, Jackson’s character is portrayed in the white and black communities.
Amisu also presents an interesting idea of perhaps Daryl was being taunted as not “bad” enough because he did not want to be associated with the black community anymore. Perhaps he had lost pride in his roots and his current friend group after being submersed in the culture of the white community. Daryl assures his friends that he is still “bad” even though he does not agree with their actions. He shows how being “bad” can be a good thing – a stand of confidence and individuality. This portrays Daryl as his own kind of superhero.
He is representing both the black and white communities simultaneously, and is standing up for what he believes is right. By doing this he is showing that there is a moral obligation for society to follow regardless of skin color. Aisha Harris claims the meaning of the song “Bad” is about Daryl “making his own place” in the world (Harris). In the video, by encompassing both communities, indeed Daryl has created his own ideas, morals, and place in his world. He is fighting for individuality within the togetherness of the two different communities.
While Jackson has had many songs that have stirred viewers and formed mixed reactions, “Bad” was one that has always been targeted specifically towards the black community. Based on a true story, it emotionally appealed to viewers and brought into light the racial divide still occurring two decades after the ending of the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson’s character, Daryl, is an artistic embodiment of the combination of the black and white communities and sends a message to the audience about the importance of unity within society. This unity gives him the individuality and courage to say that he is indeed “bad” and can stand up for himself against his friends. Daryl’s character is one that can be considered a superhero for he is not afraid of merging two different ideas and cultures while still maintaining his unique independence.
Exposing Radar Online’s Secret Shame (Part 4): Their Potential 100 Million Dollar Mistake
5 THOUGHTS ON “STUDENT ESSAY ON “BAD”: THE SUPERHERO IN MICHAEL JACKSON’S “BAD” BY BETHANY PITTMAN”
SEPTEMBER 17, 2016 AT 9:36 PM
Great!…finally the genious behind Michael’s work is being discovered ….I give dedicated every day work for it and makes me happy that it comes to light around the globe ��…hugs from me
SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 AT 2:44 AM
Thank you for bringing Bethany’s essay to our attention, Raven. Great that you are providing the opportunity for people to learn and appreciate Michael’s art in-depth.
SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 AT 9:26 AM
I believe that “Bad” also touched upon the stereotype that black people are supposed to be ‘dangerous’ and criminally tough.
Daryl’s friends plan to attack that old man at the subway station. When one of them asks Daryl “Are you bad?” he also means “Are you black enough to do this?”. What Daryl does later on by saving the old man and dancing, shows that being black or bad shouldn’t be related to crimes. He does want to put black and white people on the same level, that being the level of morality and duty towards society. This isn’t devided by race or anything else. It’s everyone’s duty and this is important on fighting one of the biggest racist remarks towards black people.
The friendly hand grabbing at the end means that we can and must work together to reach that level of equality, not only on rights, but on responsibilities too.
SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 AT 2:51 PM
Such beautiful work!!! I am proud to have been able to enjoy this piece.
SEPTEMBER 19, 2016 AT 6:16 AM
Thank-you for publishing this beautiful piece. I am delighted to know that Michael Jackson Studies has found such success with your students, especially with regards to culture, ethnicity and social issues. Michael Jackson’s art is still so relevant and resonant. To my mind he becomes more so as the years progress. I particularly enjoyed Bethany’s points about Michael Jackson and cultural mobility, the idea that Jackson’s work really can be used to forge more transition and mutability between cultures, instead of the ‘cultural appropriation’ we see so often today. The quote, ‘Daryl, is an artistic embodiment
of the combination of the black and white communities and sends a message to the audience about the importance of unity within society’ stayed with me for some days since I read this piece. You are surely doing magnificent work with your students.
I was prepared this weekend to delve back into the Wade Robson series where I left off, but since this leaked track has been all the talk for the last forty-eight hours (and is already fueling as much heated controversy as the Michael album did a few years ago) I decided I needed to take some time out to comment on it. That is the real purpose of a blog, after all-not so much to write in-depth articles in every case, but sometimes simply to give opinions and commentary on current topics that are heavy on our minds. So…here it is.
I had mixed feelings about this from the moment I heard the track. But in being fair, I try not to be one of those automatically jumping on the Bieber bashing bandwagon. There is a lot of hate for this kid-some of it for the wrong reasons, although if you read enough stories about him, it becomes easy to see there is a lot of bad publicity floating around on him, and more cropping up every day.
But then, they did the same thing to Michael, as well.
I listened to the track. It’s not bad. In fact, there is a lot more of Michael on this track than Hold My Hand, the posthumously released duet featuring Michael and Akon. However, the big difference is that Hold My Hand was officially recorded as a duet and as a collaboration between the two artists. It was understood from the get go that it was to be an Akon song featuring Michael Jackson. Michael was an active part of the creative process-in the recording and performing, at least, even if not in the final mixing.
Slave To The Rhythm, however, is being erroneously promoted as a Jackson-Bieber ‘collaboration” when, in fact, it is not. Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber did not go into a studio and record this track together, nor did they record vocals separately with the agreement that this might “possibly” be a duet sometime in the future. In fact, there was never any agreement or collaboration between them whatsoever because this was a song that Michael Jackson wrote with L.A. Reid and Babyface (most likely during the sessions for an album that would have been titled The World Is No Church) and recorded in 1998-when Justin Bieber was all of four years old and barely past potty training. (Some media outlets are erroneously reporting it as a track recorded in 2009. I think they do this simply in order to tease unknowing readers with the idea that this could have been something recorded right before his death-a way to spike the story with a little sensationalism).
No, let’s be honest. This is not a “collaboration.” This is a case of an artist living out some personal fantasy and through the miracle of modern technology-by manipulating a track (i.e., it’s called “remixing)-being able to sing a duet with his idol.
The big question this raises, however, is just how ethical is the practice? And who sanctioned this? I have already been reading several views on both sides of the argument, and I think both sides have some validity.
Mainly, this boils down to a question of intellectual property and the ethics of utilizing another artist’s work. Largely due to the popularity of sampling, I think we have become much more de-sensitized to the idea of artistic appropriation. We know, for example, that artists now routinely use samples from past hits in their current songs. This isn’t a new practice. It goes back at least as far as the late 80’s and early 90’s, when we knew good and well that MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This was “really” Rick James’s Superfreak and Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice Baby was “really” Queen’s Under Pressure.
But sampling is something of a different ballgame. Usually the original artist receives credit, and there is a kind of implied understanding between artist and audience that they’ve heard this riff before. Kid Rock’s recent hit All Summer Long borrows liberally from Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, but there is no real mystery since listeners know the original source material and it is expected that they will recognize the allusions.
So we might say sampling is one thing. And as an MJ fan, I am actually thrilled when I hear something like Chris Brown’s She Ain’t You, which liberally samples Human Nature.
Sampling is a great indication that an artist’s music still has relevance to the current generation. I know opinions will vary widely as to the artistic merits of it. But truly, it’s a great compliment and, as they always say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Michael himself certainly did not write or create out of a cultural vacuum. In fact, I was just reading the other day (before this latest debacle with Slave To The Rhythm hit) about how Michael used many elements from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit Got To Give It Up for Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) and Don’t Sop Till You Get Enough.
But what Justin Bieber has done goes beyond sampling. He has created a collaboration where none existed, by literally imposing his own vocals into Michael’s track. The technology to accomplish this has been around for awhile. Who can ever forget the incredible experience of hearing Natalie Cole performing Unforgettable with her late father? This was a great example of what can be accomplished with the technology, and proof that posthumous duets do not have to be tasteless and cheesy affairs.
However, I’m still not sure even this is a fair comparison. In Cole’s case, this was understood as an honest and loving tribute. Can the same be said for what has been done to Slave To The Rhythm? Even if we grant that JB had the best of intentions, still, Michael Jackson was not his father, his uncle, or anything else remotely related to him. He is a fellow artist-and one for whom, frankly, Bieber still has a lot of dues to pay before he can be considered remotely in the same category.
In short, there is more than a bit of arrogance at play here and perhaps this, more than anything, is what has rubbed some the wrong way.
As I said previously, I gave the track a few spins and, much as I was prepared to hate it, I didn’t. Justin isn’t trying to take Michael out of the song, and in fact, their voices blend a lot better than I would have suspected. Some of Michael’s most delightful and memorable recordings have been his duets with other artists. I love, for example, the banter between Michael and Mick in State of Shock, and hearing him sing it with Freddie Mercury produces even greater chills. And who can ever forget The Girl Is Mine, or I Just Can’t Stop Loving You? Were it not for the controversy of its origins, I would put this Bieber-Jackson duet in the same category. It’s that good. Really.
But is it an improvement over the original? Hardly. Michael’s original track has a crispier, techno-driven punch that is missing now, and Bieber (for all that he tries hard) simply cannot match the intensity and passion of Michael’s original vocals.
Check out Slave To The Rhythm as Michael intended it!
So to see some stories promoting the Bieber/Jackson version as an “improvement” of the original is both insulting and disappointing. But there is another reason for disappointment, as well. Slave To The Rhythm is one of those unreleased MJ tracks, like Song Groove (Abortion Papers)-a track that finally saw light of day on 2012’s Bad 25-that are just as great as anything ever released in his lifetime. Certainly it’s far better than some of the infinitely weaker and inferior tracks that made it onto the Michael album. Like many, I’ve been hoping to see an official release of this track for a long time, and have wondered: Why the eff are they sitting on this, and when is it going to be on an album?
And now we get…this?
Well, I don’t know. The official word now is that the Michael Jackson estate was never behind this release.
“For those who have been asking about the recently posted recording of “Slave 2 The Rhythm” by Michael and Justin Bieber, this recording was not authorized and has been taken down.”-MJOnline The Offical Online Team of The Michael Jackson Estate.
Still, some are continuing to have their doubts. Justin’s tweets seemed to hint that this was a fully sanctioned project that would be released soon:
“Excited for what is to come. MJ set the bar. Not only for music but for being an entertainer and how u treat the fans. Wish he was here…”
The reaction has been polarizing in the extreme, from those who say it’s a great way to keep Michael relevant by introducing him to a whole new audience, to those expressing absolute outrage.
I’m just going to say for the record that I think some of the outrage is a bit extreme, and the level of hatred some MJ fans are leveling at this young man makes me cringe (not the least reason being that Michael’s example was not about petty jealousy or hate). All Justin Bieber has ever done is to make it clear that Michael Jackson is someone he looks up to; a hero. For that, he has been villified almost as much as people like Gene Simmons and Nikki Sixx who have openly dissed Michael.
I don’t think it is entirely deserved, but some of it seems to stem from resentment that the press has been so quick to label Justin Bieber as an apparent heir to Michael’s throne, which is ridiculous rubbish.
Then, add to that what is starting to appear to many as an unhealthy obsession on JB’s part to not just pay homage to his idol, but to become his idol. Just a few days ago, the big story was that Justin was planning to buy Neverland (hmmm…wonder what happened to Lady Gaga’s big plans to buy Neverland?).
While coverage of Malley’s story has certainly painted Bieber in a less than flattering light (at the very least, as someone very irresponsible) I will refrain from commenting since I know, as a Michael Jackson fan, how slanted and skewered the media can be. But it’s obvious that JB was looking to re-cast himself and Malley as Michael and Bubbles. Only it didn’t quite pan out for him once authorities intervened. And unlike Bubbles, who was actually a beloved pet and Jackson family member for many years, it seems that Bieber’s only purpose with Malley was the attention and publicity he could get from the comparison. Otherwise, why would he have just left the poor thing abandoned in Germany?
Justin Bieber has credited Michael’s The Way You Make Me Feel as the inspiration behind his video of Baby:
Not only does MJ and MJ references continue to crop up in his own music and videos on a regular basis, but an increasing number of photo ops have shown Justin wearing MJ-like armbands and even surgical masks!
Sure, Michael may have borrowed liberally from Fred Astaire’s Band Wagon attire for his Smooth Criminal video; some of his Billie Jean moves may bear an uncanny similarity to Bob Fosse’s snake dance. But at what point does imitation and homage cross the line into downright appropriation of another artist’s identity?
On a more positive note, it seems that Justin Bieber has been influenced by Michael’s great humanitarian work to follow in those footsteps. For example, he was recently named by the Make A Wish Foundation as the celebrity who has granted the most wishes of dying children within a single year-200 at last count.
He also seems to have taken some valuable lessons from MJ to heart about how to be his own self publicist. Let’s not forget that Michael, too, was often accused of being a megalomaniac, but the larger-than-life persona he created was probably his single greatest achievement. However, I still think there is a big difference we have to keep in mind. By the time Michael became The King of Pop, he had fully earned the title. Justin, by contrast, seems to be trying to put the cart before the horse.
Justin talks about what Michael meant to him here:
And if there is some genuine jealousy MJ fans may feel when this latest leak creates headlines like “Two Kings of Pop Come Together” let’s not forget all of those Beatles fans who have been writhing for years as we gloated over Michael’s purchase of those Beatles songs, or even those Elvis fans who broke out the Alka Seltzer when he married Lisa Marie. Sometimes, in the pop world, what goes around, comes around.
But yeah, some are definitely beginning to wonder about Bieber’s infatuation with Michael Jackson. Where does it end, and where does Justin Bieber as an artist in his own right begin? Perhaps it’s just a phase he needs to grow out of, and perhaps will, in the same way that Michael eventually learned he did not have to be the next James Brown or Jackie Wilson. JB is still young, after all, and I might imagine, still trying to find himself as an artist. Again, I will stress that before we hate on him too much, we have to remember that, like Michael, he has had a lot thrust on him at a very young age. Like Michael, he has had no childhood, and no chance to really develop an identity outside of the fish bowl.
However, having acknowledged this fact, I still see some very important distinctions. Michael Jackson, at eighteen, was in a kind of curious in-between stage, in which his halycon childhood fame with The Jackson 5 was already behind him, and he had not yet established his meteoric solo career. As a friend once put it, there was a brief window when he could still walk into an ice cream shop in Encino, and not even need security. During this time, Michael was quietly biding his time in the wings, honing his craft, studying the masters, and mentally plotting out his ambitions for the future. Contrast this with Justin Bieber, who seems to think, at eighteen, that he is already comparable to the status Michael Jackson had achieved by his mid-thirties. There simply is no such comparison. The major difference is that by the time Michael’s eccentricities and extremes had become an accepted part of his persona, he was already a well established star who had built up many years’ worth of solid credentials. And even though many argue that he was, in fact, partially responsible for creating the vicious press cycle that eventually spiraled out of control and turned against him, he still had a solid foundation, nevertheless, that was built on years of hard work and true accomplishments. People could say what they wanted about Michael Jackson, but no one could deny or take from him what he had accomplished in the music industry. The danger for Justin is that he seems to be trying too hard, at eighteen, to be everything that Michael was by age thirty-five-controversies and all. And when it backfires on him-as it will, and has already begun-he isn’t going to have decades’ worth of respect in the industry to fall back upon. He will simply be a pariah.
I want to stress I am not wishing that on him. I just think it’s going to be his trajectory if some things don’t change-and soon. It’s probably not all his fault. As I said, he has lived the life of a child star, and all that that implies. And now it is compounded by the fact that he is also at that awkward age of struggling to make the transition into adult stardom. It’s a long and tragic trail going all the way back to Judy Garland. Many do make it-Britney, Justin, etc. But not without paying a heavy price.
I hear many people saying things like, “No way in hell would Michael have ever worked with someone like Justin Bieber.” That is being presumptuous. We don’t know what Michael would or wouldn’t have done, or who he would and would not have chosen to work with. On the contrary, Michael, as we know, was always on the lookout for up and coming young talent, often giving promising young performers featured roles in his short films or commercials. Michael had never shown any adversity to reaching out to young performers who idolized him (in light of all the problems this caused him, one almost wishes, in fact, that he hadn’t been so eager to help some of them!).
However, for all that I am trying to be fair, I can’t say it isn’t annoying now to google this track and find that the entire first page is filled with links touting “the new Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson collaboration,” giving a false impression that what has been leaked is, in fact, a bona fide duet-and, in some cases, going so far as to call it “a new Justin Bieber track featuring Michael Jackson.” In fact, at least one story that I know of has gone so far as to call it “a new Justin Bieber song.”
Um, no. This is a Michael Jackson track, which was recorded as a Michael Jackson track, and was never intended as anything but a Michael Jackson track. If we can call this latest mix anything, it is a Michael Jackson track “featuring” Justin Bieber-but only courtesy of the technology that makes it possible to wipe out an artist’s original vocal and add a new vocal in its place.
It is no more a duet or collaboration than that hologram at the Las Vegas “One” show is really Michael Jackson onstage. But for a little while, the magic of illusion can make us feel that he is among us again.
Perhaps if this latest mix of Slave To The Rhythm can be appreciated in the same way, no harm done.
On the other hand, the ethical issues this raises over posthumous releases and what does or does not constitute artistic tampering, cannot be ignored.
While the estate has done an excellent job with such lucrative and critically acclaimed posthumous projects as The Immortal World Tour and One, the posthumous legacy of Michael Jackson’s musicremains a troubled one, fraught with controversies and charges that the estate has been less than forthright and honorable in the way some of these projects have been handled.
I have to wonder, though, if fans are not at least partially responsible for sending mixed messages. The vicious reaction to the Michael album had to have left them wondering…okay, what exactly do the fans want? For Bad 25, we were given pure, unadulterated Michael…and still, the sales remained surprisingly and disappointingly soft. (I chalk this up to lack of good promotion, but still, the fact that some fans have dug in their heels to the point of refusing to support anything the estate releases is at least partially to blame). Could this be a reason to look to artists like Justin Bieber in hopes of adrenalizing sales? Let’s hope to God it hasn’t come to that!
So where does that leave the future of MJ releases? For sure, the estate will continue to profit off the brand name. But what about the music? Personally, I’m still waiting for that magical posthumous release that will have the critics singing the praises of Michael Jackson all over again. And I know it’s not an impossible dream. I know for a fact that many of Michael’s strongest unreleased tracks are still sitting in the vault. Just look at the buzz that is already being generated by this track! As I said before, the thing I can’t help wondering is why so many of Michael’s strongest unreleased work remains in the vault, while what we seem to be getting instead are a lot of filler tracks and tampered material. The fact is, the estate could release the perfect Michael Jackson posthumous album-if they wanted to. Personally, I would rather have one great, killer album of material than another twenty years’ worth of what we’ve been getting.
Of course, there is always the unintentional humor of the media to chuckle over, like this doozy I saw:
“Slave To The Rhythm” is a track Michael Jackson allegedly recorded before his death in June of 2009.”
Well, duh! Of course he recorded it before June of 2009. When the heck do they thinkhe would have recorded it…in September of 2011? And what is with this “allegedly” stuff? I am fairly certain we can safely say those are Michael’s vocals on that track!
So you get the idea. It’s frustrating, yes. And sometimes so unintentionally funny that I have to laugh. But overall, I will just sit here and say that as a Michael Jackson fan and blogger, I would be delighted beyond belief if these kinds of controversies were the worst things we had to deal with. At least it’s got the press buzzing about what truly matters-Michael Jackson’s music. Along with the fact (a revelation for them, I am sure!) that he was still writing and recording some darn good music, at that. I’m not particularly thrilled that it has to take Justin Bieber to make that happen. But I just think that we have much bigger fish to fry. In a world where we have celebrities like Gene Simmons mouthing off some of the vilest accusations against Michael imaginable, do we really want to expend energy villifying a kid whose worst crime is the fact that he idolizes Michael Jackson? Think on that one for a minute.
The world of MJ is one filled with stories of vicious betrayal, and a long line of poisonous individuals with vendettas. There is no point in naming all of the “bad guys”-and “bad women.” MJ fans know the names well, and they could easily fill up another three thousand word post. I am, in fact, disrupting my series on one such individual this week, in order to report on this story. But the fact is, knowing that there are people like Wade Robson out there makes me a lot less inclined to be too hard on Justin Bieber. The kid is a Michael Jackson fan, and in his own way, probably genuinely believes he is paying tribute.
Misguided? Perhaps. Evil or malicious? No.
I just think that it is important to prioritize our battles. Just a few short months ago, we had Wade Robson on national TV calling Michael a pedophile. Last month, we had a blitzkrieg of negative publicity coming out of the UK. There are the never ending battles against people like Diane Dimond, who continue their fight to tarnish Michael’s name and legacy. In the long fight against real evil, I can safely say in good conscience that “misguided” ranks somewhere far near the bottom of my list. If the worst we have to be concerned about is a kid who idolizes Michael Jackson a little too much, then I say we’re doing pretty darn good.
UPDATE: (11/23/12):Now that Spike Lee’s Bad 25 has aired, I would like to add my own review to the list here. Since I know there are still many international fans who have yet to see it, I’ll try hard not to include too many spoilers, though a few may be unavoidable, so be forewarned.
This is going to be a gusher, because frankly there is little if anything to criticize about this beautifully made documentary. Everything the critics have already said is true. From start to finish, this is a labor of love from people who truly love and respect Michael’s artistry. But what impressed me most was the meticulous attention to detail and…well, something that is very hard to define. I am still struggling for words as I write this. It is something that, in a very long telephone conversation I had with someone last night after the broadcast, we both struggled to define even though we knew exactly what we both meant. It was how this film managed, in every frame, to capture Michael’s essence; his vibrant energy and life force. From the beginning seconds when Michael’s youthful face fills the TV screen as he discusses his art in the Jet interview, to those final, emotionally wringing moments as he performs Man In The Mirror at Wembley, his energy and life force dominates the screen. Somehow, through all of his carefully chosen clips, Spike Lee manages to capture EXACTLY what Sheryl Crow and others meant when they spoke of how Michael’s presence could “change the molecules” in a room. If one can feel that energy simply sitting in front of a TV screen, you can imagine what it must have been like to have been in the same room with him, creating with him, or onstage with him. Of all the wonderful things I can say about this documentary, this was the one quality I most took from it. Spike Lee has actually managed to top Kenny Ortega’s feat. If This Is It made Michael feel alive again to us, even if only for a couple of hours, the Spike Lee movie achieves another level entirely. When viewing Bad 25, Michael is not only alive again, but we can actually feel and experience his presence in a very palpable and intimate way. As one reviewer, quoted below, aptly said, the film is “mesmerizing” but I was admittedly not prepared for just how correct that word was until I began to watch. As a fan who already had high expectations for this film, I knew I was going to be seeing something good. What I was unprepared for was just how totally “mesmerized” I was after the first few minutes, to the point that every commercial break felt like a sacrilege.
I was drawn into Michael throughout this film in the same way that I might have been had I been a complete newcomer; one who knew absolutely nothing about him beforehand and was coming into this experience as a complete novice. THAT is how powerful this film is; the effect it has. This result is a combination of many factors, from Michael’s raw charisma (heightened and intensified by the carefully selected footage and superb editing) to the brick-by-brick details of his creative process. There was always something indelibly magical and mesmerizing about Michael Jackson, but sometimes as a result of sheer over exposure in my case (being an advocate who spends most of my free time studying and analyzing him in some form or another) I sometimes become numb to it. Or perhaps that I sometimes come to take it for granted is a better way to phrase it. Yet I am reminded of it at various times, in odd ways, as for example, when I am teaching the Black or White video in my classes and I see young students who weren’t even born when this iconic video was released, sitting and watching the Panther Dance sequence in spellbound silence, hanging on his every lightning quick move; waiting to see what he might do next. It is moments like that in which I am reminded, anew, of Michael’s ability to have this sort of spellbound effect on an audience.
And last night, I experienced it again. I experienced it as a hardened fan and even harder critic who sometimes falls into the trap of believing there is nothing more that Michael can do to surprise me, or that I couldn’t possibly love him anymore than I already do.
The answer is: Yes, he still can, and yes, if you are a diehard fan, it is still possible to love him even more. The magic never gets old. It never grows dull. It’s just that every once in awhile, we get projects like this documentary which manage to spiff it up a little and make it shine anew for us. Of course, the downside is that this also serves to renew the ache of that loss. We are reminded of the gaping void that was left when we lost this magical, vibrant creature (to somewhat loosely paraphrase Madonna’s AMA tribute speech).
I think what impressed me the most is the same thing that I have been hearing many say, based on the conversations I have seen in the forums. Michael just seems so happy here; he was obviously enjoying the creative process. He was a young man who had just come off the success of Thriller; who had the whole world at his feet and a myriad of paths still wide open to explore. His joy with creating propels every scene and fills every frame in which he appears; it is contagious and impossible to resist. What I most appreciate about this documentary is not so much that it allows the fans to see this side of Michael-after all, this is the side we already know-but that it allows the general public to get to know this side of him, as well. The Michael Jackson that the public meets in Spike Lee’s Bad 25 is neither the angst-ridden wreck of the tabloid caricature, nor the regressed man-child of the “Peter Pan” myth (perpetuated by such trash as the Martin Bashir doc) but simply, a vibrant young man in the prime of his life and whose overwhelming zest for life can barely be contained-coupled, of course, with a work ethic that would have driven a lesser artist to sheer exhaustion. Simply put, Michael’s vitality and exuberance shines through in every frame.
I was also very much relieved that the movie did not fall victim to what is the dearth of so many well-intentioned documentaries, “talking head” syndrome. As I had read review after review, I was a little concerned that the sheer number of talking heads in this film would bog it down. While I enjoy hearing people who worked with Michael talk about him, I much prefer to keep the focus on Michael, letting him speak for himself as much as possible, and watching the actual footage of him performing. While Bad 25 does have its share of talking heads, however, the pacing keeps it brisk and moving.
My only complaint is one being echoed by many. At barely 64 minutes, counting all of the commercial breaks, we only got a very, very edited version of the full documentary, which is over two hours. I knew that we would be getting an edited version, but there was no way to know in advance what footage would actually make it into the TV version, and what would be omitted. I was disappointed that the footage of Michael and Stevie Wonder recording Just Good Friends was omitted, as well as those charming and funny shots where he is trying to convey how each of the California raisins should look. Normally, when movies are edited for television, we might expect a few minutes to be trimmed, but in this case we essentially lost HALF of the movie!
Spike Lee mentions how painful that editing process for TV was in this interview:
Spike Lee: With TV, you have commercials, so it’s shorter. The theatrical version runs two hours and 11 minutes … and for television, it’s something like 64 minutes. [That editing was] painful, but that’s TV. At the same time, it’s being shown on ABC on Thanksgiving, so there will be a ton of people who will be in front of their televisions that night. I’m happy about that.
The commercial breaks, while an evil necessity to a network broadcast, often disrupted the flow of the film, and occasionally in some very awkward and unintentionally funny ways, such as when they said something to the effect that we are all familiar with the Bad video’s famous dance sequence, and then it cut to a perfume commercial of a girl dancing in a field of flowers!
Still, this is really such a small complaint that it is almost meaningless to even address. The TV version, choppy as it sometimes was, nevertheless did an excellent job of maintaining the essence and integrity of the film, and while some of the edited bits may have been missed by the diehard fans, I think the more important fact to keep in mind is what the casual or neutral viewer walked away with. And, to borrow a quote from a friend of mine who knows more than a bit about the movie industry and the editing room process, “The viewer is not going to miss what they never knew was there.” Those are wise words well worth keeping in mind. The most important thing about having this network presentation was the opportunity to reach those casual and neutral viewers; those who might have been “just curious enough” to watch, but without knowing a lot about Michael. Those 64 minutes-brief as they may have seemed to us diehards-were nevertheless a powerful tribute that made for great holiday entertainment. The average viewer still had over 64 minutes of some of the most amazing performance footage of Michael ever captured on film, including that glorious Wembley performance of Man In The Mirror which would have been the lead-in for every local news broadcast in the country last night that was on an ABC affiliated channel! The beauty of Michael’s magic is that it doesn’t need overkill. A little goes a long way. And if this edited version does manage to whet the appetites of some to dig deeper, and learn more, so much the better. After all, we still have the full-length DVD coming out in February.
I just want to say that I loved every beautiful frame of this movie, from start to finish! Thank you, Spike Lee, and a big thank you to ABC for giving Mr. Lee’s film an opportunity to be seen and appreciated by the masses.
“Of all my documentaries, this one will be the most watched ever,” Lee says. “Thanksgiving night in America? That’s huge. All families, all races will be watching. I’m happy that ABC came forward.”-Spike Lee, excerpted from “Spike Lee Looks Back At Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad,” by Elysa Gardner, USA Today
I was glad I found the above quote from Spike Lee. For days now, I’ve been thinking about how to approach this post and trying to articulate exactly why I’ve been so pumped over this documentary airing on ABC Thanksgiving night (that’s two nights and counting!). Of course, I am usually up for anything on Michael, and it should be no surprise that the fan community is abuzz over this documentary.
But what sets this project uniquely apart is the sheer magnitude and scope of it. Critics have been hailing this film since it debuted at the Toronto and Venice film festivals last summer. Not since This Is It have we seen a project on this scale, that is to say, a project that has simultaneously united fans, critics, and even non-fans in a common celebration of Michael Jackson’s artistic genius.
I still remember the tingly anticipation of coming home from the This Is It premier and going online to see what the early consensus from film critics would be. I knew that I had just witnessed something very special. But I’m a fan, right? So what do I know? As a lifelong movie fan and film connoseur, I knew that, ultimately, it would be the word of the critics who would make or break this film. With baited breath, I began to read the early reviews, and was astounded, for even my most positive outlook had not prepared me for the sheer wealth of praise that came rolling in as I read review after review. Indeed, as the movie’s tagline said, it seemed that many had delightfully discovered “the man” they “never knew.”
But it has now been over three years since This Is It. Much of its success, undoubtedly, was fueled by the sense of loss and the wave of nostalgic affection that many were feeling about Michael in the wake of his then-recent death. Since then, a good bit of that glow has somewhat faded, once again tarnished by tawdry headlines- a gut-wrenching criminal trial (in which every detail of his demise was laid out for all the world, again, to wallow in), a scandalous family crisis, and enough tabloid trash books to circle the globe. Not to mention the looming of yet another trial on the horizon that is bound to be another salacious grabfest for the media. Yet, for all of that, This Is It still stands as the ultimate testament of Michael’s artistry and what might have been. However, it also left a huge and bittersweet question: Would this, indeed, be “it?”
When it comes to movies about Michael Jackson, we’ve certainly had our up’s and down’s. Even in Michael’s lifetime, there was the triumph of The Jacksons: An American Dream and the absolute nadir that was Man In The Mirror. Talk of a Jackson biopic continues to swirl, but given the sheer complexity of tackling such a subject, not to mention all the entanglements of family, estate, and Sony, such a project is bound to be years in the making-if it ever happens at all.
There have also been a few other notable documentaries, but most of these have been straight-to-DVD releases, where, of course, the fans are going to be the only ones buying.
I’ve realized that what I have been craving is that communal experience, going all the way back to the days when every new Michael Jackson video was a worldwide event, often broadcast simultaneously on several channels, with millions tuned in, waiting expectantly to see what Michael’s next move was going to be-literally and figuratively. Nothing was more exciting than knowing that millions of us were tuned in to this shared experience, all anticipating something magical that was bound to happen. After all, you never knew what you might get with Michael. We might come away delighted, enthralled, or shocked and even angry. But for sure, we’d all be talking about it the next day!
All of that changed, of course. It changed under the crushing weight of child abuse allegations, tabloid scandals, and the media lynching that turned Michael into a national punchline. We only have to turn the clock back as far as 2005-a mere seven years ago-to fully appreciate what this ABC airing of Spike Lee’s Bad 25 means.
Think on this. A little less than seven years ago, Michael Jackson was a punch line on The Tonight Show. Now we have a critically acclaimed film, from one of Hollywood’s most respected filmmakers (and from all accounts, a film that perhaps surpasses even This Is It as a serious, in-depth look at Michael’s artistry) airing on Thanksgiving night. Not on DVD; not on cable; not at some ungodly, unheard of hour, but on a broadcast network. During prime time family hour. On Thanksgiving night.
To quote Spike Lee again, that’s huge. It’s mammoth huge.
It means that, as a nation, America has finally taken a huge step towards a healing process that should have happened long ago. Of course, to somewhat paraphrase journalist Danyel Smith as quoted in the film, the shame is that there should ever have been a need for this healing process in the first place.
Spike Lee Revisits Michael Jackson’s Career for ‘BAD 25′ Documentary
‘He became a prisoner of his fame,’ says director
At the outset of BAD 25 – the documentary film celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Bad album – director Spike Lee quickly dispenses with talk of the pop superstar’s personal struggles, diving right into the artistic perfectionism that drove him to achieve his career milestones. “Hopefully, that’s what this documentary is about – it’s gonna have people return to focusing on the music, his art, which I feel is his legacy, in addition to his children,” Lee, dressed in a white BAD 25 T-shirt, told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie had its North American premiere over the weekend, after debuting in Venice 25 years to the day since Bad’s release.
To piece together the making of Jackson’s landmark LP, Lee unearthed archival footage from studio sessions and music video shoots and conducted interviews with Jackson’s many collaborators, including Quincy Jones, Martin Scorsese, Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow, and stars who were inspired by his music, from Kanye West and Mariah Carey to Questlove and Justin Bieber.
The film, which will get a television premiere on ABC on November 22nd, follows the making of Bad track by track; though it can feel clinical at times, it also revels in cool details, like the origin of Jackson’s gravity-defying lean in “Smooth Criminal” and his famous expression, “Shamon!” Then, abruptly, Lee shifts to Jackson’s death in the summer of 2009, collecting reactions from his interview subjects, many of whom choke back tears and break down. “Those were all real, raw emotions that were displayed,” said Lee.
One of the most impactful statements in the documentary comes from music journalist Danyel Smith. “We should all be ashamed,” she says. “The way that I interpret that,” said Lee, “is that Michael should be with us. He should be here.”
On Tuesday, Jackson’s estate and Epic/Legacy Recordings will release a BAD 25 CD/DVD deluxe package, with three discs’ worth of remastered versions of the LP’s original tracks plus bonus material, including previously unreleased songs (“Price of Fame,” “Song Groove (A/K/A Abortion Papers”), the first release of Jackson’s 1988 Wembley Stadium concert on DVD, and remixes by EDM artists Nero and Afrojack.
“Listen to the song ‘Price of Fame,’ which he wrote specifically about the situation,” said Lee, holding a copy of the release. “How can you get privacy when you’re the most recognizable person on the planet?”
“Did you see the disguises he had?” Lee added with a laugh, referring to a moment in the film that shows photographs of Jackson wearing intricate facial disguises. “He had to do that. He couldn’t go anywhere in the world without there being a riot. Man, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. He became a prisoner of his fame. I mean, I’m not rewriting Michael’s titles, but [the song] could’ve been [called] ‘Prisoner of Fame,’ instead of ‘Price of Fame.’”
But we can’t undo history. For now, I am just thankful to see that we have finally arrived at a time and place where Michael’s work is again being celebrated as it rightfully should be. In a way, Spike Lee’s Bad 25 is perhaps an even bigger milestone than This Is It. After all, a theatrical release, by its nature, is still going to draw a somewhat selective audience. People have to pay to go to the movies. Television is free. And after all, it’s where Michael reigned for over a decade. And from all the teasers I have glimpsed of this film, we are in for something special. For the diehard fans, of course, we will get what we have come to love-and then some. I can’t speak for what the non-fan might take away from this, but for sure, they are going to get more than a glimpse of a hard driven perfectionist at work. The clips speak for themselves. We are going to get serious and driven Michael; we are going to get the genius hard at work perfecting his craft; we are going to get a hefty dose of the famous humor; we are going to see the charm; that smile;we are going to hear that infectious giggle; we’re going to see those cool, gravity-defying moves. America is about to be reminded-in a huge way and on a mass scale-why Michael Jackson was the biggest thing on the planet in 1987. But more importantly, I think they will come away with a renewed respect for why he remains relevant even today.
And, just like This Is It, there is also the captivating element of the story-within-a-story. Part of the huge appeal of This Is It was not only witnessing the magic of Michael’s artistry at work, but also in the story of everyone coming together to create The Ultimate Show That Would Have Been. Now, in Spike Lee’s Bad 25, we have another story to be told. How does a driven artist top himself when his last album has been the biggest selling album of all time? Bad is, as I tagged it long ago, “The Little Follow-Up Album That Could.” This is the stuff of reality TV, only it’s a story that needs no scripting and no embellished cat fights to make it engaging.
I have personally been thrilled with all of the attention to Bad this past year because, aside from the obvious healing process that this documentary represents, this entire anniversary in general also marks another important milestone. It is the beginning, finally, of a long overdue public recognition that Michael’s body of important and influential work did not begin and end with Thriller. It’s an appreciation that I believe will only continue to grow in the years to come, as we also approach the silver anniversaries of Dangerous, HIStory, and beyond.
And I imagine that more than a few parents will possibly be worn down from the sheer exhaustion of having to move all of the living room furniture around so that the kids can dance!
It’s going to be that kind of night. And it’s long overdue.
I will leave this post at the top through Thursday night’s broadcast and the remainder of the Thanksgiving weekend. Please feel free to share your reviews and thoughts. As for myself, I’m borrowing a phrase from The Pointer Sisters: “I’m so excited/And I just can’t hide it!”
More reviews and clips celebrating Spike Lee’s Bad 25. The accolades keep coming! (The clips from the documentary are from the German TV version; sorry I do not have any English clips at this time. Nevertheless, those of us in the U.S. can still get a wonderful feel for what’s in store!).
Just when you thought there was nothing more to know about Michael Jackson, Spike Lee‘s Bad 25 arrives as a revelation, and an unexpected pleasure. The made-for-TV doc, which premiered at TIFF, was commissioned by a record label to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Bad, Michael Jackson’s follow-up album to his mega hit Thriller. Due for broadcast by ABC in November, the film is tied to this week’s re-release of Bad, which comes with a payload of remastered and unreleased tracks. Given that kind of marketing agenda, you have to wonder: how good could it be? But Lee, who moves between dramas and documentaries with a virtuosity unmatched by anyone other than Martin Scorsese, had his own agenda: to reclaim the genius of an artist whose work has been eclipsed by a tabloid narrative. “That’s why this film is out there,” Lee told me in an interview on the weekend. “Just focus on the man’s art, focus on his creative process.”
Lee succeeds brilliantly. Drilling much deeper into Jackson’s legacy than Kenny Ortega’s 2009 documentary This Is It, his film unearths a myriad of detail about Jackson’s music, influences and methods—along with juicy trivia, notably a story of a testy summit between the singer and his rival Prince. Lee explores the making of Bad track-by-track, weaving rich archival footage with a gallery of talking heads that includes musicians, choreographers, confidants—and luminaries who include Martin Scorsese, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder and Cee Lo Green. The 1987 album was Jackson’s follow-up to Thriller, the highest selling album of all time. It had then sold about 40 million copies but would go on to sell 100,000. “Everywhere Michael went he had a red sharpie,” says Lee. “He’d write on mirrors: ‘100 million.’ He wanted Bad to double the success of Thriller.” Jackson never reached that mark, but Bad would become the first album in history to spawn five consecutive number-one singles.
But Jackson had another mission. He wanted to toughen his street cred in the black community, especially with with the title song and the 18-minute short film that Scorsese directed for it. The record’s producer, Quincy Jones, had originally hoped Bad’s title track would be a “showdown” duet with Prince, says Lee. “There was a meeting held at Michael’s house. The story goes that Prince showed up with a box, and Michael was convinced there was some type of voodoo inside and Prince was trying to cast a spell on him. If Prince had given me the honour of an interview,” says the director, “I would have asked about that ’cause we only heard from one side about that voodoo box. Hopefully one day Prince will go on record and give his story about that historic meeting.”
Lee did his best to get Prince on camera. “I tried, I tried,” he said. “He didn’t want to do it. And I’m friends with him—to be honest, our relationship was friendlier than with Michael.” Lee has made two videos for Jackson, but afterwards he never heard from him again, but he says, “me and Prince have been talking for years.” The two elfin superstars, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, had an intense rivalry, according to Cee Lo Green, who first met Jackson at a Prince concert. Lee compares them to basketball’s Magic Johnson and Larry Bird: “Neither one wants to be bested by the other guy.”
Although Jackson never did sing with Prince, he recorded a duet for Bad with Stevie Wonder, Just Good Friends. Everyone in Lee’s documentary agrees that, on this album jammed with hits, it was the one dud. “Here’s the thing,” says Lee, “My question is: why are two of the greatest songwriters ever singing a song that neither of them wrote, or co-wrote?” The 25th anniversary edition of Bad includes eight songs that didn’t make the initial release, and “all eight in my opinion could have been on the album [instead of] Just Good Friends.”
Lee’s film shows Jackson as a groundbreaking multi-media artist. We hear him doing vocal exercises that reveal a range spanning a full three-and-a-half octaves. (He just didn’t care to use his baritone.) He cops dance moves not just from James Brown, but from Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse—and Bugs Bunny. And after inventing the cinematic music video with Thriller, he ups the ante with Bad, commissioning serious directors for videos that Jackson would always insist on calling “short films.”
Scorsese directed the 18-minute video for Bad’s title track, a realist black-and-white drama scripted by Richard Price—who would go on to make Clockers with Lee. In the documentary Price is, well, priceless: “The Italian asthmatic goes to the Jewish asthmatic, and they say ‘Let’s make this guy a homey.’ ” Lee shows Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker watching the video for the first time since they made it, with Scorsese recalling how startled he was by Jackson’s trademark crotch grab.
Climaxing with that West Side Story-like dance-off in a grungy subway station, the Bad video introduced an unknown actor named Wesley Snipes, cast as Jackson’s tough-guy nemesis. “When I saw that short film, the debut of Wesley Snipes,” says Lee, “I knew right away I wanted to work with him. I didn’t know who he was. Whoever he was, I said this big black guy, he’s going to kick Michael Jackson’s ass!”
Lee recalls that he offered Snipes the role of Ray Raheem in Do the Right Thing. “He chose to do Wild Cats with Goldie Hawn instead.” Lee smiles and pauses, letting the weight of that dubious career move sink in, before adding that he would then cast Snipes in Mo’Better Blues and Jungle Fever. Snipes is now serving a three-year prison term for tax evasion. “I had the pleasure of visiting him once,” says Lee. “He’s going to get out and set the world on fire again.”
The movie digs up some intriguing lore around the music video for The Way You Make Me Feel, which was designed to portray Jackson as a sexy romantic. Its director Joe Pykta says he ordered the singer’s co-star, Tatiana Thumbtzen, not to kiss him at the end because Jackson was too shy. (Thumbtzen, who would be replaced by Sheryl Crow on tour, later wrote a non-kiss-and-tell book about their lack of chemistry.) But more fascinating than the gossip is the wealth of detail about the music, from a drummer’s comments about trying to hold up the shuffle beat in The Way You Make Me Feel to Jackson’s uncanny skill at finger-snapping. That’s right, he had the best finger snap in the business.
Although Lee deliberately avoided delving into Jackson’s personal life in the film, he doesn’t rule out making a more biographical documentary in the future. “Who knows? But I could still do another one like this,” he says, rhyming off some potential Jackson albums that would be ripe for treatment. “If I get asked by the record company, I would do it in a second.”
“He Had The Best Finger Snap In The Business”-No Doubt, Being Double-Jointed Helped In That Regard!
The Steps of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ Spike Lee’s ‘Bad 25,’ About Michael Jackson and His Album By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS Published: October 18, 2012
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album and subsequent world tour, “Bad 25” reintroduces us to an artist viewed too often through the prism of tabloid speculation.
Deconstructing the design and shooting of the album’s videos — or, as Jackson insisted on calling them, short films — the director, Spike Lee, assembles a fond and meticulously detailed mosaic of a perfectionist at work. Buoyant interviews with Jackson’s friends, collaborators and business partners supply a deluge of revealing yarns and trivia, while priceless rehearsal footage offers glimpses of a genuinely sweet personality. Though at times a tad worshipful, the film’s tone is ultimately more awed than hagiographic, its commenters too cleareyed and candid to back away from negative publicity or public disenchantment.
Filled with oh-wow moments — like a 1988 clip of Sheryl Crow, with mountainous hair, partnering Jackson in the ballad “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” — “Bad 25” confirms the genius of an authentic pop original. Dancing us back to a time when a music video could be directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Richard Price and star a menacing Wesley Snipes, the film insists you don’t need to be a fan: you just need eyes and ears. http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/10/19…his-album.html
Bad 25: Spike Lee Brings Michael Jackson Back to Thrilling Life
On the album’s silver anniversary, Lee documents the blood, sweat and art that went into this platinum touchstone from the King of Pop By Richard Corliss | October 18, 2012
Michael Jackson stands in a graffiti-filled subway car during the filming of the long-form music video for his song ‘Bad,’ directed by Martin Scorsese, New York, New York, November 1986.
“He’s got the perfect balance of soul and science,” producer Quincy Jones said of Michael Jackson, at the conclusion of their work on the album Bad. Spike Lee’s Bad 25 — which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Aug. 31, on the 25th anniversary of the album’s release, and which will play in American movie houses before a Thanksgiving airing on ABC TV — shows the blend of inspiration and acuity that drove these two perfectionists in creating a worthy successor to their epochal 1982 album Thriller. Jackson said he meant bad “in all good will,” and in that sense the movie isn’t bad. It’s baaad, and great.
On mirrors wherever he went after Thriller, Jackson scrawled ”100,000,000″ — the estimated worldwide sales of Thriller; still the best-selling album of all time and the winner of a record eight Grammy awards. Bad topped out at about 40 million, but it was the first album to birth five No. 1 singles (a record broken, we’re embarrassed to note, by the six No. 1′s from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams CD). The Bad videos — or, as MJ insisted on calling them, “short films” — cemented Jackson’s stature as a movie star who never appeared in a hit movie; thematically adventurous and expertly choreographed, they provided the crucial link between golden-age Hollywood musicals and YouTube. To extend the album’s multimedia reach, Jackson toured for 16 months in 15 countries: 123 shows that displayed his preternatural performance gifts and supernatural footwork.
Covering it all in a galloping 2hr.10min, Bad 25 is also a love letter from the often acerbic director, who at his Venice press conference underlined the influence Jackson had on the aspirations of a black kid in Brooklyn. “I was born in 1957, he was born in ’58,”Lee said. “And when I saw the Jackson Five on The Ed Sullivan Show, I wanted to be Michael Jackson. I had the Afro, the whole Jackson look. But the singing and dancing — that’s where it stopped.”
No matter: Lee, who directed Jackson in the 1996 video for “They Don’t Care About Us,” is a master of slick, sleek propulsion, as both interviewer and assembler of the all-time great making-of documentary. Like This Is It, the 2009 film of Jackson’s preparation for the concert tour aborted by his death at the age of 50, this is a demonstration of the backstage agony and artistry.
For Bad, Jackson wrote or cowrote most of the songs. Jones’s maxim as a producer — “You can’t polish doodoo” — led to an epic wrangle over which songs to include among the final 10 cuts. Engineer Bruce Swedien, the avuncular Wilford Brimley of microphone magic, would arrange the placement of musicians and backup singers, while Jones chose the supporting cast. The ballad “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was intended as a duet with Whitney Houston or Barbra Streisand; instead it went to the little-known Siedah Garrett, a Jones protégé, with the young Sheryl Crow duetting with MJ on the tour.
At the end of the six-month recording process, Garrett got another call: to write a ballad for the album’s last track. She and Glen Ballard created the soaring “Man in the Mirror,” with choral work by The Winans and Andrae Crouch. After the session wrapped, Crouch suggested one last hymnal “Change!” The departing singers were called back from the parking lot to provide the song’s spiritual capper.
Jackson’s videos for Thriller had employed John Landis (for the title tune), Bob Giraldi (“Beat It”) and Steve Barron (“Billie Jean”), setting the standard for the MTV minimovie. The “Bad” track would be helmed by Martin Scorsese, who had just directed The Color of Money from a Richard Price script. Price offered Jackson an inner-city faceoff scenario; as he says in Bad 25, “Here’s this asthmatic Italian and an asthmatic Jew” helping the sheltered, showbiz black kid “to show the brothers that he’s down with them.” The video, which costars a young Wesley Snipes (soon to be the star of Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues and Jungle Fever), was shot on the streets of Harlem. As Scorsese recalls, Michael “looked around and said, ‘Do people really live here?’”
Bad 25 documents the conception and shooting of most of the album’s videos, with testimony from their directors: Joe Pytka (“The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Dirty Diana”), Colin Chilvers (“Smooth Criminal”) and California Raisins stop-motion auteur Will Vinton (“Speed Demon”). Tatiana Thombtzen, the slim model who could have been Michael Jackson as a female, recalls that Pytka advised her not to kiss Michael at the climax of “The Way You Make Me Feel.” A kiss would have been redundant: the two were such visual twins that romance approached narcissism.
“A lot of people misunderstand me,” the singer said. “That’s ’cause they don’t know me at all.” The image a lot of people had of the star in the two decades after Bad was of a weird, sad soul who dated a chimp, disfigured his face, dangled his young son from a hotel window and pursued unusual liaisons with boys. Another Jackson is revealed here: the obsessed professional who worked for months in Jones’s recording studio and at home with a “B team” of top musicians laying down demo tracks. He practiced his gliding, lurching dance steps with Soul Train alumnus Jeffrey Daniel and A Chorus Line cast member Gregg Burge. He pored over the dance films of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Bob Fosse, writing in a note to himself, “Study the greats and become greater.” A record- and rule-breaker, Jackson also built on and improved on a century of American song and dance.
“I feel rejuvenated,” Michael Jackson said of his Bad album, “a jubilation.” Bad 25 is an intimate view of a performer at his peak in the intense splendor of creativity. The movie ends with a magnificent rendition of “The Man in the Mirror” at Wembley Stadium in June 1988. Exhausted and exhausting, he gives his fans his unique all as singer, dancer, charismatic showman.
Okay, just a few things I have to call them out on in the above article. I know the media did a pretty good number on most of us but, seriously, did we ever really think Michael was dating Bubbles? C’mon! But it does offer up an interesting take on the pairing of Michael and Tatiana: They did look a lot alike (sort of like a Mick and Biana Jagger thing going on!). But I loved the last line!
The Rock Doc as Art: Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson Documentary, Bad 25
Every subgenre needs its classic, and so Spike Lee’s Bad 25 is what amounts to the greatest Behind the Music episode of all time. Frenetically paced, ingeniously constructed and brimming with hilarious anecdotes, the look back on the creation of 1987’s Bad (the one that had the enormous task of following Thriller), elevates the rock doc to an art form. At over two hours in length, what could have felt like a bloated obituary is unmistakably alive. Although it’s unlikely that it would have been assembled were it not for the death of its primary subject, Bad 25 proves that Jackson’s legacy has nearly made him immortal.
This movie gave me a new respect for an album I have listened to more times than I could possibly estimate and have grown to dislike over the years. I’ll always prefer the warmth, clarity and weirdness that defined the early, more analog-driven part of the ‘80s over the flabbier last half of the decade, but Bad’s craftsmanship, as elucidated by Lee’s film, is undeniable. Its cultural significance is most clearly underlined via the insight of ?uestlove, one of the film’s stable of talking heads that also includes Kanye West, L.A. Reid, collaborator Siedah Garrett (her Blossom hat is worth the price of admission), Mariah Carey (who, in a role she sometimes plays in her songs, is just a giddy pop music fan here), Justin Bieber and journalists Nelson George, Danyel Smith and Jason King. ?uest refers to Bad as black pop’s first stadium album. He calls the underwhelming duet with Stevie Wonder, “Just Good Friends,” Bad’s “coffee break.” He draws the line from James Brown’s catalog to the Bad track “Speed Demon” since virtually all of the instruments involved are used for percussive purposes. If you didn’t know before, now you do: The Roots’ drummer is among the greatest cultural critics of his time.
Kanye, meanwhile, has a tremendous bit about “Smooth Criminal” (“I never quite understood who Annie was. And why does it matter if she’s OK?”). There is a motif of gentle Jackson teasing that makes the veneration feel human and modern. Richard Price, who wrote the screenplay for the 18-minute, Martin Scorsese-directed “Bad” short film, snorts, “He goes to the Italian asthmatic and the Jewish asthmatic to make him a homey.” Throughout, Jackson’s engaging with and deviating from culture’s expectations of him as a black man/musician is handled with nuance and compassion. It’s not surprising that Lee could achieve that type of portrait (clearly, he gets it), but it’s so satisfying nonetheless.
Lee uses Bad’s songs to discuss different facets of Jackson’s legacy. “Smooth Criminal” handles his dancing, for example; “Leave Me Alone,” frames the section on Jackson’s public image; “Man in the Mirror” intertwines with reflections on Jackson’s death (the song experienced a surge in popularity after he died). As much as I appreciated the irreverent tone of the movie, I found the montage of tearing-up people whose lives Jackson touched to be incredibly moving. It’s only at the end of the film that this sense of sadness joins the pronounced emotions flowing within the discussion of Jackson’s work – as a device, this makes the great cultural loss of Jackson resound better than any discussion of his death has until this point.
The film features a host of archival footage. Some of it is in the form of old interviews — Quincy Jones, weirdly, does not appear to have been interviewed for this movie and his comments (and abstract Bill Cosby sweater) are vintage. There’s amazing and hilarious footage of Jackson being goofy while imitating the California Raisins in expressive detail or lamenting the constraints of his endlessly buckled “Speed Demon” costume (“I wish I could [move]. I feel so limited. This stuff is so tight on me.”). It’s all so humanizing for a figure who kept the most vulnerable aspects of himself hidden from public view.
Bad 25 is playing in limited theatrical engagements this week and next in advance of its Thanksgiving airing on ABC. I saw it in a theater in New York’s East Village on Saturday that was filled with vocal fans (they booed Bieber every time he was on screen – I barely heard a word he said). One guy maintained a running commentary that was almost as loud as the film’s soundtrack, but he was ejected from the theater within the first quarter of the film. The woman who sat in front of me, nodding emphatically any time anyone made any point and then did spirit hands during the climax of “Man on the Mirror,” was allowed to remain throughout, but at least she was quiet.
The rest of the audience sang and clapped and made their love known, albeit in less distracting manners. “It’s a jubilation, really,” is how Jackson described the release of his album. A quarter of a century later, it still is. http://gawker.com/5953864/the-rock-d…mentary-bad-25
UVU graduate in Thanksgiving Day’s Michael Jackson documentary on ABC
Published on Nov 15, 2012 02:04PM
UVU graduate Joe Vogel will appear several times on next Thursday’s Michael Jackson documentary, “Bad 25,” directed by Spike Lee, in ABC.
Vogel (a doctoral candidates at the University of Rochester) was Lee’s consultant on the film. Vogel is the author of Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson and is also a walking encyclopedia of facts about Jackson and “Bad.”
Some of Vogel’s insights include:
· MJ wanted “Bad” to be tougher and edgier than “Thriller.” The King of Pop worked with Run DMC on a collaboration that didn’t make it into “Bad.”
· While working on “Bad,” he put a piece of tape on his mirror that said “100 million,” and he would look at every day. It was his goal for record sales — he wanted to double what he sold for “Thriller.”
· In the studio, Jackson recorded in semi-darkness.
· He wanted his whole career to be the biggest show on earth. He handed out copies of PT Barnum’s autobiography to people and worked on ways to ways to get people’s attention. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsbu…vogel.html.csp
Spike Lee looks back at Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’
Source: USA TODAY
The subject of Spike Lee’s latest documentary is a legendary talent who was better known as a tabloid figure in the last two decades of his life. But with Bad25 — an in-depth look at the creative process behind Michael Jackson’s 1987 album on its silver anniversary, airing Thursday (ABC, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT) — the director re-introduces us to the staggeringly gifted young man the world knew before all the circuses and scandals.
“For too long, people focused on that other stuff,” Lee says. “When you do that with an artist, you do it to the detriment of the art. I think people are beginning to refocus on Michael Jackson’s music now.”
Lee spoke with numerous musicians, choreographers and filmmakers who collaborated with Jackson on Bad, among them one of Lee’s heroes and close friends, Martin Scorsese, who directed a short film for the album’s title track. There’s also archival footage of Jackson — in an interview, in the recording studio, shooting videos and performing on tour — and commentary from stars who worked with or were influenced by him, among them Sheryl Crow (Jackson’s onetime backup singer), Mariah Carey, Kanye West and Questlove.
“People at the top of their fields make it look so easy,” Lee says. “You think Michael Jordan came out of the womb dunking, or Frank Sinatra was born with that voice. But it doesn’t happen like that — these people bust their (butts). Michael Jackson sang for his supper from the time he was five.”
Some of those interviewed reflect on the toll that a life in show business might have taken on Jackson, and the pressure that Bad specifically posed in following 1982′s Thriller, which 30 years later remains the best-selling album of all time. But the emphasis is on Jackson’s artistry. “Sheryl Crow said he could change the molecules in a room,” Lee notes. “I never heard a description like that. But it’s very apropos.”
Lee didn’t fulfill his wish list for the documentary entirely. “I really wanted to get Quincy Jones,” who produced Bad as well as Thriller and its predecessor, 1979′s Off the Wall. “But we couldn’t work it out with his schedule, so we had to use archival interviews.” Lee also sought out Wesley Snipes, who appeared in Scorsese’s video for Bad. “I visited Wesley in prison,” where the actor is currently serving a three-year sentence for failure to file federal income tax returns, but Lee wasn’t granted permission to shoot. “It’s too bad, because he has some amazing stories.”
Though Lee himself worked with Jackson, directing a pair of short films for the pop star’s single They Don’t Care About Us in 1996, he never considered adding personal insights. “We weren’t close — I’m not going to front. He was going through some things then.”
Veteran music journalist Alan Light, director of programming for PBS’ Live From the Artists Den, nonetheless thinks Bad25 is a good fit for Lee, “who started emerging as an artist and media figure around the time Bad came out. And Spike Lee takes on ambitious themes; he looks at big questions — and Michael Jackson obviously poses big questions.”
Bad25 already earned acclaim at this year’s Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, where it was shown at its original length of 131 minutes. The ABC cut is about half that, but a full-length DVD is expected early next year. Meanwhile, Lee is grateful for the attention that the TV special will afford his work and its subject.
“Of all my documentaries, this one will be the most watched ever,” Lee says. “Thanksgiving night in America? That’s huge. All families, all races will be watching. I’m happy that ABC came forward.”
On that note, we come full circle. Thursday night will be the test. It is the night we are supposed to spend sitting around, stuffed with turkey and pumpkin pie, and reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for. Hopefully, we can leave room to ensure that a small part of that thankfulness is for the return of our native son-back where he belongs, on that TV screen, creating the magic for us one last time. Again.
ETA: Another great review has come in from the LA Times!
By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television CriticNovember 22, 2012, 6:00 a.m.
In a welcome break from the traditionally saccharine holiday programming, ABC is airing “a version” of Spike Lee‘s documentary “Michael Jackson: Bad 25,” which had its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival before having a short theatrical release. Lee trimmed almost an hour for the television version, but “Bad 25” is still something to be thankful for, a hypnotic homage to the performer’s gift and, more important, his dedication.
Wielding an impressive collection of behind-the-scenes clips as well as interviews with a disparate array of colleagues (including Martin Scorsese and Sheryl Crow), Lee uses the creation of the album and the “short films” (Jackson eschewed the term music video) the songs inspired to keep his focus firmly on Jackson’s work. Although there is brief mention of things like Jackson’s shyness, his increasingly pale skin and his choice to speak and sing in the higher registers of his impressive three-octave range, that’s as personal it gets. Lee’s window is definitively, and almost defiantly, framed by the ambition, talent and rigor that went into creating “Bad.”
Indeed, the structure of the film mirrors the album. After a brief discussion of Jackson’s refusal to rest on the laurels of the record-breaking “Thriller — according to his bodyguard and confidant, Jackson wrote 100,000,000 for “Bad” on his mirror in a Sharpie to remind him that this album would outsell “Thriller” — Lee begins breaking down the multimedia production of “Bad” beginning with the decision to go with what would become the iconic look of Jackson in his studded and be-buckled black leather.
The look, says Kanye West, made “Bad” an even more seminal album than “Thriller.” “I’m almost dressed like that today,” West says.
The strongest portion of this version follows the creation of the short film for the title track. Scorsese agreed to direct and brought in screenwriter Richard Price, with whom he had just worked on “The Color of Money.”
“Michael wanted to make a video to show the brothers he was down,” says Price with a laugh. “So the Italian asthmatic goes to the Jewish asthmatic to make Michael a homie.”
Watching as the video assembled — it was, among other things, the film debut of Wesley Snipes — and the dance scene choreographed, the sense of Jackson as both an obsessively dedicated performer and a boy living in a bubble (he cannot believe people actually live in the Harlem location chosen for part of the film) comes vividly to life. (It is also great fun to see a young and bearded Scorsese doing his thing in the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station.)
Especially effective are the clips of Jackson working with choreographer Jeffrey Daniel in early rehearsals (at the Helmsley Palace of course). Daniel, like Scorsese is also on hand in present time to deconstruct all the decisions that led to the final product.
Each song receives a similar breakdown and occasionally the film threatens to put out its own fire with a smothering blanket of praise, but Lee more than makes his point: No matter how distracting or disturbing the personal details get, at a certain level an artist must be defined by the work.
Moreover, the Jackson seen here, at the height of his power, is still recognizable as a man rather than the tabloid myth he was to become. So when the inevitable moment of sorrow is effectively captured we mourn the loss of what might have been, cut short not just by death but by a life that for, whatever reason, veered so wildly away from the admittedly narrow and perilous path of genius it had once so gorgeously danced.