Review: Bad 25 (TIFF 2012)
PLOT: Director Spike Lee looks back at the creation of Michael Jackson’s seminal 1987 album BAD, from the recording of the songs, the creation of the music videos, to the world tour.
REVIEW: Spike Lee’s BAD 25 is certainly something that will give anyone who grew up in the eighties goose bumps of nostalgia. I was only five years old when BAD came out, but by then I was already a giant Michael Jackson fan. Remember, this was long before the scandals involving Neverland ranch, the kids that visited him, the plastic surgery, and so on- although when the album came out it was already obvious that his skin had somehow gotten lighter. Following hot on the heels of THRILLER, which remains the best-selling album of all-time, BAD had huge expectations, and while it wasn't quite the pop culture phenomenon THRILLER was, BAD was nonetheless a massive success- standing as the fifth biggest album of all time.
Spike Lee's film examines the incredible build-up to BAD, when the hype was at a fever pitch. It's revealed that Jackson, who was in a major rivalry with Prince, originally envisioned the title track as a duet for the two of them, although both of their egos got in the way. It's shown how Martin Scorsese and Richard Price (who memorably states, “it was left to the Italian and the Jew to show the brothers Jackson was still down”) where brought on board to make Bad into a gritty short film, which memorably featured Wesley Snipes' debut. While Snipes is understandably not interviewed (he's still in jail for tax evasion), Scorsese runs through the whole video with Lee, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker.
From there we go track by track, with everyone from Tatiana Thumbtzen (the girl from “The Way You Make Me Feel” video), Justin Beiber, Kanye West, Jackson's choreographers, Sheryl Crowe (who got her big break singing on the tour) and more being interviewed (Quincy Jones is the notable exception). Lee makes use of a wealth of footage, with everything from the videos, to Jackson's “California Raisins” commercial being featured prominently.
Through the rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage, it's clear that Jackson, while clearly eccentric, was a good collaborator, and he's never seemed more human than he does in Lee's portrait. But- Lee's film also buys right into the Jackson revisionism that's taken hold of everyone since his death a few years ago. Everyone pretends that the last fifteen years of his life never happened, and Lee is no exception, never hinting that Jackson would eventually go down a darker path. This is a surprisingly commercial tact for the unconventional, gritty Lee- but it can't be argued that he's made a fun, entertaining film that will no doubt be eaten up by his fans, of which I must admit that despite everything, I'm still one.
The fans targeted by the doc will soon get the chance to see BAD 25 for themselves, as ABC's already picked it up for broadcast over the holidays- although whether or not it'll go out in it's original form (over two hours, with a few F-bombs courtesy of 'Dirty Diana' guitarist Steve Smith (who still has rockin' hair). While BAD is no THRILLER, Lee's documentary makes a convincing case that it's almost as good, and certainly this will have you immediately go home and dust off a copy of the album.