After much anticipation, I finally had the opportunity to watch Spike Lee's documentary, Bad 25, about Michael Jackson's historic album. And what a treat it was!
I have been a fan of Michael Jackson for many years and so was thrilled when director Spike Lee decided to air the documentary on American Thanksgiving. Thanks Richard McCallum for the heads up, in his article on Digital Journal!
The film focuses on the creation of the album, Bad, as this is the 25th anniversary of its release. It brings together key players who worked on the album, including the one and only Quincy Jones. It shows Martin Scorsese and his crew, directing Michael and a slew of dancers in a New York City subway station, filming the video for the album's title song. It features a young Wesley Snipes in his 'movie' acting debut - remember him from the Bad video? And it includes comments about the album from contemporary artists like Chris Brown and Kanye West.
There were so many wonderful moments in Michael's career that Lee managed to capture in this film. Highlights for me included interviews with songwriters, composers, studio musicians and choreographers who collaborated with Michael to make the album and its music videos the works of art that they are today.
As a dance fan, I enjoyed hearing how the choreographers got their inspiration and put together their moves, and how they worked with Michael to bring these moves to fruition. Michael always knew what he wanted to portray and how he wanted to portray it but the choreographers added to his creative process significantly. From the 'pop and lock' moves of 'Bad' to the Fred Astaire-type stylings of 'Smooth Criminal,' Michael's videos were always a tribute to dance.
Here are a few pieces of information that I did not previously know, about my favourite songs off the album:
-In 'Smooth Criminal,' did you ever question why Michael sang the lyric 'Annie, are you OK?' over and over? This is something I always wondered about and apparently so did Chris Brown and Kanye West. It turns out that at the time he had an interest in learning CPR, and the dummies used in training for CPR are named Anne. That's one mystery solved! However, we are still left with the greater mystery of how the dancers managed to do the 'Smooth Criminal Lean' dance move. It is a move I have tried to recreate countless times in my living room.
-The 'pretty girl' who basically stole the entire 'Way You Make Me Feel' video was model/actress Tatiana Thumbtzen, and she is still beautiful today. She holds the distinction of being the only person from the documentary - other than Michael - that my Facebook friends actually commented about. Apparently many young men had huge crushes on her.
-'Liberian Girl' was a tribute to beautiful African women, as many may have already known. What I did not know is that despite the constant criticism Michael received about wanting to 'look white,' he actually had a great interest in African people and visited the continent many times.
-The songwriter for 'Man in the Mirror' was Siedah Garrett, who also sang 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' in a duet with Michael. As a writer, I really enjoyed learning about what inspired her to come up with the lyrics for Man in the Mirror, especially the title, and how she lobbied Quincy Jones to consider the song for the album. I can only imagine how thrilling it must have been for her to hear Quincy say how much he loved the song, to have Michael record the song in his own unique and captivating way, and then to see the reaction from people all over the world.
The film ends with just Michael on stage, singing a stirring rendition of that very song. After watching an hour and a half of dazzling choreography with scores of dancers and many other people in the King of Pop's career, it was refreshing to see just Michael, singing his heart out, and remembering what a great entertainer he truly was.
Update: I have been informed in the comments below that the television version of Bad 25, reviewed in this article, was edited from the original version. About half hour was edited out for TV. The original, full-length documentary will be available on DVD in February.