Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Spike Lee BAD 25 Documentary [Reviews and Possible Cover]

Toronto Review: ‘Bad 25′

Jordan Hoffman September 11, 2012

A- One of the more emotional moments I've had in a theater all year.

Hello. My name is Jordan Hoffman, and I am one of twelve people on God’s green earth who holds no particular fondness for Michael Jackson. I own only one of his albums, “Off the Wall,” and, frankly, I borrowed that from an ex and never returned it. (Dear Mindy Silverstein, if you are reading this, I’m sorry.) The point is this: if a film can bring me to tears — TEARS — by a performance of “Man in the Mirror,” a song I normally roll my eyes at when I hear it at CVS, a song that reflexively fires my “change the station” maneuver on the car radio, this is an indication that something special is going on.

Spike Lee’s “Bad 25″ is, on the face of it, nothing too removed than one of those “Classic Albums” programs that used to air on VH1. Songs are discussed one by one, with tidbits about the recording and writing, and sometimes the mix is finagled so we get to focus on what the bass player is actually doing. “Bad 25,” however, is a Spike Lee film. While his off-camera voice is only heard once in a while, and to great effect, the collage of clips and talking head interviews burst with an exuberance worthy for a subject who called himself the King of Pop.

“Thriller” or the early Motown Jackson 5 era may seem like a juicier topic of focus, but “Bad” proves to be quite fertile ground. “Thriller,” a worldwide cultural phenomenon if ever there was one, left Jackson with an impossible act to follow. The record executives suggested he do an album of covers to give him some distance. Instead, Jackson and collaborator Quincy Jones dove straight into the deep end, looking to represent every musical genre, creating what ?uestlove calls the first album of stadium music by a black artist.

With incredible access to Jackson’s estate, “Bad 25″ shows just how involved he was in every aspect of the album, from writing, recording and producing, as well as the business. For Jackson, of course, an album wasn’t just the music. It was the style, choreography and “short films” that accompanied each track.

A great number of music videos were created for “Bad,” so it provides plenty of doc-ready source material. Some may be surprised to recall that the title track’s video was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Prince. Both are on hand, along with editor Thelma Schoonmaker, to provide detailed commentary. “Bad” is the first track to get analyzed in “Bad 25,” and it’s here where you’ll see what kind of film this is — “Bad 25″ celebrates the man by focusing on the work.

Jackson’s drive is made evident through phone messages to collaborators, rehearsal videos shot all through the night and copious notes to self from his diaries. The influences are as diverse as Mavis Staples, Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire and “The Third Man.” It is impossible not to feel tremendous respect for this artist.

Jackson’s life is full of sadness, too. His collaborators (some famous, some not) all describe his inability to live a normal life. His idiosyncrasies aren’t dismissed, but they are put in context. Try to dance a mile in his shoes.

Lee breaks from the standard talking head doc format in discussing Jackson’s death. Everyone — and the list of boldfaced names is as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Justin Bieber, Will Vinton and Greg Phillinganes, to just scratch the surface — gets a moment just to bear witness. It is fascinating portrait of grief, a “where were you” collection of anecdotes like those that people trade about the Kennedy assassination or 9/11.

This is followed by an analysis of “Man in the Mirror,” bringing an enormous weight to the story of that important anthem’s birth. “Bad 25″ concludes with a live, complete performance of the song from Wembley Stadium that, I swear, was one of the more emotional moments I’ve had in a theater all year.

No one needs more hagiographic documentaries about famous people. “Bad 25″ isn’t that. It is one of the most energetic and sublime investigations into the creative process put to film. Non-fans will be enthralled. Actual fans will be ecstatic.

Grade A-

Review: Spike Lee's Bad 25 excels with look at Michael Jackson the artist Special

By David Silverberg

Sep 11, 2012

It would be easy to make a documentary about Michael Jackson's controversial career and personal life; but instead of widening the scope, Spike Lee perfectly examines the making of the iconic Bad album produced 25 years ago.

Luckily, you don't have to be an MJ fan to appreciate Bad 25, screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. The lengthy doc moves along at a quick pace to explain the artistry behind the 1987 album, without assuming we know everything about the King of Pop, who passed away in 2009.

Rather, Lee (When the Levees Break) opts to introduce us briefly to the stardom and hoopla behind the musician, and then move smoothly to what MJ always liked to call his short films (translation: music videos).

Somehow, Lee got a hold of rare footage of Martin Scorcese shooting the Bad video, and the material is truly fascinating. We learn Jackson wanted Bad to reestablish his relationship with his black fans, making him look tough and hard. Choreographers were interviewed to discuss the "street moves" added to the dance sequences, a theme recurring in various videos MJ produced.

Song by song, Lee takes us through the Bad album, peppered with talking heads that always add some insight into the artist: ?uestlove from the Roots talks about the album's influence on hip-hop, Kanye West gushes over MJ's fashion sense, and Justin Bieber admires the mind-blowing lean move in the Smooth Criminal video. An MJ confidante reveals the "Annie are you OK?" line from the same track refers to a CPR dummy Jackson practiced on, ending a 25-year-old lyrical mystery.

What really makes this doc a must-see is the insider look at what made MJ so talented. He wasn't just a triple threat; he could sing, dance, perform, produce and write his own songs, something you don't see too much today in the music biz. Lee finds the right people, such as Bad's sound engineers, to divulge how MJ approached his songs, right down to the sound levels.

Comparisons may be made to This Is It, the doc following MJ's rehearsals in London before his death, but Bad 25 goes much deeper into the man behind the legend. We see a boy who hates being bullied by the press when the film looks at the song Leave Me Alone. We see a singer with incredible vocal range, who could go baritone if he chose, but instead opts for a high voice because he feels comfortable there. We see a man so ambitious he marks down on paper the number of albums he wants to sell: 100 million (no problem reaching that milestone).

You would think a doc on Jackson would include interviews with his family, especially his sister Janet. But nary a Jackson is to be found, a move that serves the doc well: it's an homage to Bad, not a profile of the artist and his beginnings. Sure, we learn where MJ got some of his dance moves (Fred Astaire was a major incluence), but the doc doesn't want to travel down the path of family roots. Nor does Lee want to step into the murky waters of the child molestation scandals or his relationship with Lisa Marie Presley. Instead, the film trains its lens on Michael the artist and that's it.

The only jarring section are the interviews over MJ's death. Every interviewee is asked where they were when his death was announced, and while that may be revealing to some extent, it acts as a manipulative trick to instigate tears and grief we hadn't felt up until now. His death can't be glossed over, but I'm not sure all those recollections of "I was in my car" or "I was shopping for milk" really added any value to MJ's sudden passing. Those were 15 minutes Lee got have better spent on, say, MJ's perspective on death. There must be something in all those archival interviews, no?

Bad 25 will serve as one of the best documentaries of an album, perhaps even of a music legend. When the credits roll, you can't help but rush home to hear the Bad album all over again, this time with fresh insights into old songs.

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Possible cover for the documentary

(c) Sony Music / MJJ Productions Inc.

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