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NOTE: This is a review of the sixty-four minute snippet of Spike Lee's Bad 25 that aired on ABC on November 22, 2012. The original film is about two hours and eleven minutes and is scheduled to be released on DVD in February 2013. When available, I will publish a new review of the full length film, which will be mixed points from this review along with newly established ones.
Every artist, big or small, comes billed with their own projected style or personal feature. Gene Simmons had his tongue, Madonna had her dresses, but Michael Jackson had his moves and "his groove," music executive Andre Harrell tells us in Spike Lee's much-anticipated Bad 25. Just watching an old video of Michael Jackson performing live and dancing on stage inspires all sorts of reactions among the old and the young. His talents are unforgettable, his music, touching in the way words can not describe, and eternal, much like his spirit.
We begin by welcoming expected statistics to the table; Michael Jackson's album Thriller is the best selling album in music history, how do you follow it up? With another fantastic record that boasts five singles, all of which charting number one. That album, of course, is the iconic Bad, released in 1987, with a cover boasting Michael staring at you in a black leather jump-suit with several silver buckles, and the five singles being "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," "Bad," "Man in the Mirror," "The Way You Make Me Feel," and "Dirty Diana." After those back-to-back successes, you can bet that pretty much every tune off the album became its own single.
Followed up are a variety of interviews from modern stars such as Mariah Carey, Chris Brown, and Kanye West, and a number of artists and composers that had firsthand experience with Michael such as his main producer, Quincy Jones and Tatiana Thumbtzen, who co-starred with him in the music video for "The Way You Make Me Feel," where she remarks fondly about how Michael was so shy and vulnerable, leading the director of the short film to change the ending from a kiss to a simple hug. I say short film purely for the spirit of Michael Jackson; he never liked to call the video counterparts for his songs "music videos," but "short films," and they definitely played like one. The only modern artist I can think of that tries to tag on a story with her videos is Lady Gaga, but even she can't embody the true sense of power and bombastic greatness of the king of pop.
Quite possibly the most interesting segment in the film is the footage we get behind the scenes of the Bad short film shoot, with acclaimed director Martin Scorsese manning the camera. In front of it are not only Michael Jackson with a band of young, highly-skilled choreographers, but Wesley Snipes in a debut role as the one peer pressuring Michael before he exclaims loudly and proudly that he is "bad." But not criminally bad; "bad" as in cool, he says.
Another short film shoot we explore is the production of the kinetic, infectious anthem "Smooth Criminal," which just so happens to be one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs. We see how deeply and closely the short mimics the film noir style of pictures like The Third Man, with its heavy use of shadow and color. In its entirety, the short is expertly crafted and the music is beautifully sung, and like mentioned in the film, is completely worth it to see the "Smooth Criminal" lean, where Michael and his group of dancers lean forward to the point of almost appearing horizontal.
Bad 25 will suffer by comparison to Michael Jackson film greats like Michael Jackson's Moonwalker and Michael Jackson's This Is It. It's difficult to top those cherished pictures mainly because it shows Michael as a living, breathing human, and what we're left with is to remember him through archived concert footage and the hundreds of interviews he gave in his heyday. I'm giving this cut of the documentary three stars only as a placeholder because I can sense that it is heavily cut and a large part of the exploration in the five singles feels rather slim. To judge this entire project solely on the viewing of the hour-long special we were fortunate to get is a little disheartening and unfair. I haven't seen the half of it - literally.
Starring: Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Quincy Jones, Martin Scorsese, Cee Lo Green, Chris Brown, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Sheryl Crow, and Tatiana Thumbtzen. Directed by: Spike Lee.
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