Michael Jackson: Bad 25, BBC Two | TV reviews, news & interviews
Michael Jackson: Bad 25, BBC Two
Sprawling Spike Lee documentary celebrates the artistry of a great pop icon
The latter years of Michael Jackson were a sorry saga of debt, lawsuits and sordid allegations about his private life, with the artist seeming an increasingly desperate and isolated figure. Director Spike Lee aims to salvage Jackson's artistic reputation, and this sprawling two-hours-plus documentary keeps its lenses firmly focused on Jackson's musical and performing gifts.
Lee's theme is the creation of Jackson's album Bad, released in August 1987 and the follow-up to Thriller. The latter was not an easy act to follow, and became the world's all-time bestselling album with (by some estimates) 110 million copies shifted. Jackson was always exceedingly competitive about his sales and his "King of Pop" status, and in the film former Sony supremo Walter Yetnikoff recalls how Jackson would ring him up in a state of panic if he slipped from the Number One slot. In the event, Bad, released nearly five years after its flabbergasting predecessor, could only manage a miserable 45 million units, though Jackson's bean-counting ghost can rest easy in the knowledge that shifts in taste and technology have ensured that nobody else will ever get anywhere near these figures.
For Bad 25, Lee has tracked down everybody connected to the Jackson camp while Bad inched painstakingly towards completion. Actually producer Quincy Jones is present only through archive interviews, but it's interesting, for once, to hear Jackson's musicians shedding some light on the mercurial star's working processes.
Siedah Garrett remembers how Jackson flicked popcorn at her while she was auditioning to sing on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", lead guitarist Steve Stevens recalls how Jackson meticulously oversaw his phrasing as he practised the solo for "Dirty Diana", and Sheryl Crow (who toured as a Jacko backing singer) tries to describe how he inexplicably "changed the molecules" when he came into the room. Keyboards man Greg Phillinganes is an exuberant presence as he demonstrates some of his signature riffs and themes, though he doesn't quite replicate the bubbling state of hysteria he was in when interviewed just before going onstage with Jackson at Wembley Stadium in 1988.
The Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour grossed $160m on its recent US tour
Lee has included several meaty chunks of Jackson in performance, calculating that however much words can say about Jackson, it's his performing gifts that will guarantee his immortality. There's an absorbing sequence about the making of the "short film" (Jackson never called them pop videos) with Martin Scorsese for the title song of "Bad", in which themes of black identity and cultural pride were juxtaposed with one of Jackson's pin-sharp choreography extravaganzas.
Other episodes cover the "Smooth Criminal" video, where Jackson paid homage to Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire and assorted other Hollywood idols, and the shoot for "The Way You Make Me Feel", where the elfin Peter Pan of pop frolicked with Tatiana Thumbtzen and some hardened LA gang members while battalions of cops kept a watchful eye. After suddenly jumping to the day of Jackson's death and recording the reactions of his interviewees (everyody cries, basically), Lee concludes with a long take of Jackson performing "Man in the Mirror" onstage. The twinkling footwork, the gravity-defying sense of balance and the elaborate knitting together of musical and theatrical components do make him look sort of supernatural, at least in comparison to anybody else working (then or now) in pop music.
How all that talent and so much success led him to such a dismal and premature end will doubtless be the subject of future books and movies. Meanwhile, as Bad 25 aired in the USA over Thanksgiving, news emerged that Jackson's estate has successfully paid off the last of the singer's huge debts. The back catalogue keeps selling madly, there's a new $250m record deal with Sony, and the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour (a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil) grossed $160m on its recent US tour. The Bad Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition is on sale now (merchandising blitz, pictured above). One recalls Colonel Tom Parker's comment, after the death of his client Elvis Presley. "Elvis didn't die, the body did," said the Colonel. "We're keeping Elvis alive. I talked to him this morning and he told me to carry on."
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Nick Broomfield in elegiac mode holds out for history
Lo-fi football sitcom starring Craig Cash and Sue Johnston has its heart in the right place
Agreeable scenery can't compensate for feeble plot and unconvincing characters
Benedict Cumberbatch chills in a notably bleak account of Shakespeare's crook-backed king
The uncompromising director to whom a new feature-length documentary pays tribute
Culture clash and class collision in bohemian north London
More whimper than bang as insightful series on modern masculinity ends in the City
Amazing archive film from the pioneer days of wildlife film-making
London-based Scandi noir avoids Stockholm syndrome
Implausible drama about institutional racism in the UK and US had its heart in the right place
Lesley Manville is surrounded by gargoyles in a gentle comedy about widowhood
New power-and-money drama is smart and slick, sleazy and cheesy