Bad 25: Spike Lee’s Thrilling Tribute to the Michael Jackson Album

A quarter-century to the day after its release, Lee lays out the soul and the science behind the King of Pop's followup to 'Thriller'

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Michael Jackson stands in a graffiti-filled subway car during the filming of the long-form music video for his song 'Bad,' directed by Martin Scorsese, New York, New York, November 1986.

“He’s got the perfect balance and soul and science,” producer Quincy Jones said of Michael Jackson, at the conclusion of their work on the album Bad (read TIME’s oral history: The Making of Bad). Spike Lee’s Bad 25, which has its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival tonight, exactly a quarter-century after its Aug. 31, 1987, release, shows the blend of inspiration and acuity that drove these two perfectionists in creating a worthy successor to their epochal 1982 album Thriller. Jackson said he meant bad “in all good will,” and in that sense the movie isn’t bad, it’s baaad — and great.

On mirrors wherever he went after Thriller, Jackson scrawled “100,000,000” — the estimated worldwide sales of Thriller; still the best-selling album of all time and the winner of a record eight Grammy awards. Bad topped out at about 40 million, but it was the first album to birth five No. 1 singles (a record broken, we’re embarrassed to note, by the six No. 1 songs from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams CD). The Bad videos — or, as MJ insisted on calling them, “hort films” — cemented Jackson’s stature as a movie star who never appeared in a hit movie; thematically adventurous and expertly choreographed, they provided the crucial link between golden-age Hollywood musicals and YouTube. To extend the album’s multimedia reach, Jackson toured for 16 months in 15 countries, 123 shows that displayed his preternatural showmanship and supernatural footwork.

(Venice Film Festival: Follow TIME’s Complete 2012 Coverage)

Covering it all in a galloping 2hr.10min, Bad 25 is also a love letter from the often acerbic director, who at today’s press conference underlined the influence Jackson had on the aspirations of a black kid in Brooklyn. “I was born in 1957, he was born in ’58,”Lee said. “And when I saw the Jackson Five on The Ed Sullivan Show, I wanted to be Michael Jackson. I had the Afro, the whole Jackson look. But the singing and dancing — that’s where it stopped.”

No matter: Lee, who directed Jackson in the 1996 video for “They Don’t Care About Us,” is a master of slick, sleek propulsion, as both interviewer and assembler of the all-time great making-of documentary. Like This Is It, the 2009 film of Jackson’s preparation for the concert tour aborted by his death at the age of 50, this is a demonstration of the backstage agony and artistry. The performer’s fans — and all sentient movie lovers — who can’t get to Venice or to the Toronto Film Festival, where Bad 25 is the closing-night attraction on Sep. 15, can catch this essential pop-culture artifact Thanksgiving Day on ABC.

(LIST: See TIME’s Top 10 Michael Jackson Everything)

For Bad, Jackson wrote or cowrote most of the songs. Jones’s maxim as a producer — “You can’t polish doodoo” — meant an epic wrangle over which songs to include among the final 10 cuts. Engineer Bruce Swedien, the avuncular Wilford Brimley of microphone magic, would arrange the placement of musicians and backup singers, while Jones chose the supporting cast. The ballad “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was intended as a duet with Whitney Houston or Barbra Streisand; instead it went to the little-known Siedah Garrett, a Jones protégé, with the young Sheryl Crow duetting with MJ on the tour.

At the end of the six-month recording process, Garrett got another call: to write a ballad for the album’s last track. She and Glen Ballard created the soaring “Man in the Mirror,” with choral work by The Winans and Andrae Crouch. After the session wrapped, Crouch suggested one last hymnal “Change!” The departing singers were called back from the parking lot to provide the song’s spiritual capper.

Jackson’s videos for Thriller had employed John Landis (for the title tune), Bob Giraldi (“Beat It”) and Steve Barron (“Billie Jean”), setting the standard for the MTV minimovie. The “Bad” track would be helmed by Martin Scorsese, who had just directed The Color of Money from a Richard Price script. Price offered Jackson an inner-city faceoff scenario; as he says in Bad 25, “Here’s this asthmatic Italian and an asthmatic Jew” helping the sheltered, showbiz black kid “to show the brothers that he’s down with them.” The video, which costars a young Wesley Snipes (soon to be the star of Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues and Jungle Fever), was shot on the streets of Harlem. As Scorsese recalls, Michael “looked around and said, ‘Do people really live here?'”

(READ: Corliss on The Death of Peter Pan)

Bad 25 documents the conception and shooting of most of the album’s videos, with testimony from their directors: Joe Pytka (“The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Dirty Diana”), Colin Chilvers (“Smooth Criminal”) and California Raisins stop-motion auteur Will Vinton (“Speed Demon”). Tatiana Thombtzen, the slim model who could have been Michael Jackson as a female, recalls that Pytka advised her not to kiss Michael at the climax of “The Way You Make Me Feel.” A kiss would have been redundant: the two were such visual twins that romance approached narcissism.

“A lot of people misunderstand me,” the singer said. “That’s ’cause they don’t know me at all.” The Jackson revealed here is the obsessed professional who worked for months in Jones’s recording studio and at home with a “B team” of top musicians laying down demo tracks. He practiced his gliding, lurching dance steps with Soul Train graduate Jeffrey Daniel and A Chorus Line cast member Gregg Burge. He pored over the dance films of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Bob Fosse, writing in a note to himself, “Study the greats and become greater.” A record- and rule-breaker, Jackson also built on and improved on a century of American song and dance.

“I feel rejuvenated,” Michael Jackson said of his Bad album, “a jubilation.” Bad 25 is an intimate view of a performer at his peak in the intense splendor of creativity. The movie ends with a magnificent rendition of “The Man in the Mirror” at Wembley Stadium in June 1988. Exhausted and exhausting, he gives his fans his unique all as singer, dancer, charismatic showman.
26 comments
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Molefi Lebone
Molefi Lebone

The greatest of all time. Its just a shame that there isnt enough material about him speaking candidly about his process as an artist.

DCPinTX
DCPinTX

Michael Jackson led a tortured existence and couldn't find his way.  He needed prayer and intervention - but sadly, as often happens - he was too "valuable" a commidity for people to care.  He should be held up a an example of how talent is often valued over the life of the individual.  I certainly wouldn't want my children or grandchildren following in his footsteps.  Many people will be held accountable for not helping him - but I certainly think they led to his demise - including his father.

ladjob
ladjob

katy perry wont be remembered in 50 years. michael jackson will....in 100.

Francesco Sinibaldi
Francesco Sinibaldi

Dans la lumière...

Un chant

très léger et

la douce harmonie

d'une tendre

lumière, un

souffle de

poésie et encore

l'émotion qui

rappelle la

jeunesse......

Francesco

Sinibaldi

Nan Foster
Nan Foster

It is high time that Michael Jackson's brilliance be the center of a documentary instead of the baloney that the unknowing public was spoonfed when he was alive.

Along side  his genius ,the common thread that ran through Mr Jackson's life was greed , envy , racism and revenge..

No cheap shot was left untaken, no opportunity to exploit him for rating ,professional aspirations by  Bashir ,  Dimond ,  Grace , as well as other scandal mongers  including  the Santa Barbara prosecutors that enabled  greedy families, making up garbage to sell tabloids, or try and wreck his endorsements , make a quick buck off tearing him down.

I would like this magazine to go and read those court transcripts because that is a story that should have been told.

The civil rights of a black icon and world renowned humanitarian  being stomped on in full view of the media , by unscrupulous prosecutors enabling a civil suit at  a later date.

And barely a word of the truth that resulted in a complete vindication was reported ...

It is time we honor , not only the musical genius , but the kindhearted human being as well..

kola kokker
kola kokker

As a kid I remember passing out from dancing to MJ, there are not many good memories from childhood that make me feel as good as Michael Jackson and his music. OMG, im bout to go dance my MJ routine as if im a eight year old kid again...lmao

Brandon Penny
Brandon Penny

Katy Perry DID NOT BREAK MJs record with 5 no.1s from one album!

She unfortunately just matched/tied that record, and her songs can not be compared to MJs in any way of historical context.

MJ had to sell real music, physical LPs, CDs, without the Internet, YouTube, iTunes or Facebook... in contrast with contemporary celebs and wannabes... (like KP)

By the official statement of MJ Estate and Sony - BAD has sold 45 million copies to date!

BAD tour has two Guinness records.

juneyny
juneyny

Can't wait for this documentary; thank you Spike Lee for focusing on the creative genius who was and is Michael Joseph Jackson.  Who cares about Perry, Kanye, and so many others who try to imitate Michael!  There will only EVER be one Michael Jackson.  The media and an out of control prosecutor (who by the way should be incarcerated next to Conrad Murray) tried to rip and heart and soul from this man the world loved and admired.  He persevered until the end of his life and his fans and supporters will never forget what Michael gave us or what the media and Sneddon did to him.

nikeshox
nikeshox

http://www.shoxskoautentik.com...

Nike Free 5.0 Menn design med et nivå artikkelen støttestruktur , lang artikkel støtte av fjollete og coriaceous materialer , og sentralt område netto overflate direkte bonding, sikre en større spekter av mobile, må løpere gi vamp støtte. Og inne hele fôr struktur, som et par sokker direkte innpakket i fot , få foten kan være vilkårlig buet strekning

Israel Shabbat
Israel Shabbat

On a more somber note, there is a line of tribute perfumes out there dedicated to Michael. It comes from Joe Jackson and a French scam-artist Julian Rouas. This is so revolting to see the name and image of Michael used in such a way. Read the gory details at... http://jacksontributefragrance...

gc
gc

F* katy perry damn! this ruined MJ's record!!!! it should have a rule when new artists now wanted to compete the greats b4 them, they really intentionally did this to make this an achievement for perry,hey lowered the price of her singles in itunes, her songs was out for more than 2 years;she completed these 5 no.1's in more than 2 years,mike had it foe only a week or 2 weeks,and her album sold only 11M?mike's bad sold 45M copies,and everytime she's being  introduce in any shows MJ's name and this matched has been mentioned or attached to her,like the first woman artist who matched Michael jackson's record-breaking 5 no.1's in an album. the executors of MJ estate shouldnt allow this thing,they should protect MJ's records! damn i cant accept it and i hate it!

Tabinformed
Tabinformed

 Correction: Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" only sold 5.5 million copies. You are absolutely correct that it was an engineered marketing plan that got her those #1 singles. Quantity without quality.

stanleydriver
stanleydriver

All I can say is YES - SHAMONE - it's about doggone time - that chroniclers are focusing on the amazing talent and art of Michael Jackson instead of the media-fueled misinformation that ruined his career. I want to see this kind of detailed tribute for every single one of his albums and all of his short films. The footage is out there in someone's archives. There are more Spike Lees and Kenny Ortegas out there too, to gather the brush strokes into a much more accurate portrait of who Michael Jackson really was all along. The towering shame is that we couldn't honor him appropriately before he gave his "unique all" one last time.

Janelleofj
Janelleofj

like Luis replied I didn't know that anyone can earn $8155 in 1 month on the network. did you look at this(Click on menu Home)

Mark Bentley
Mark Bentley

Despite Price's remark, Jackson hardly qualified as a "sheltered, showbiz black kid."  He was on the road, singing in strip clubs and juke joints at 2 am from the age of 5 or 6, witnessing things even street-savvy kids would find shocking.  His miniscule home in Gary accommodated a family of 11, and street gangs and violence are what impelled his father to be so strict about his kids finding a musical way out of the neighborhood. I think Michael Jackson was always able to get "down with the brothers" just fine.  It was the cynical and jaded media hoopla around him that failed to connect with or understand his essential purity  or goodness as a human being, imo.

 

Mark Bentley
Mark Bentley

Despite Price's remark, Jackson hardly qualified as a "sheltered, showbiz black kid."  He was on the road, singing in strip clubs and juke joints at 2 am from the age of 5 or 6, witnessing things even street-savvy kids would find shocking.  His miniscule home in Gary accommodated a family of 11, and street gangs and violence are what impelled his father to be so strict about his kids finding a musical way out of the neighborhood. I think Michael Jackson was always able to get "down with the brothers" just fine.  It was the cynical and jaded media hoopla around him that failed to connect with or understand his essential purity as a human being, imo.

 

Mark Bentley
Mark Bentley

Despite Price's remark, Jackson hardly qualified as a "sheltered, showbiz black kid."  He was on the road, singing in strip clubs and juke joints at 2 am from the age of 5 or 6, witnessing things even street-savvy kids would find shocking.  His miniscule home in Gary accommodated a family of 11, and street gangs and violence are what impelled his father to be so strict about his kids finding a musical way out of the neighborhood. I think Michael Jackson was always able to get "down with the brothers" just fine.  It was the cynical and jaded media hoopla around him that failed to connect with or understand his essential purity  or goodness as a human being, imo.

 

WouldntU LikeToKnow
WouldntU LikeToKnow

Correction: Katy Perry didn't break MJ's record, she matched it. And given the rise of iTunes and the ease (and affordability) of singles today, it's not that surprising, in my opinion. Just sayin'. :P

John Kamberai
John Kamberai

I totally agree. Just imagine if  iTunes, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, were being used, the way we use them today,when MJ was alive. He would be number one. Billions of youtube views etc... 

Sue Adams
Sue Adams

Good point and thank you for pointing this out :) I would imagine it's a media journalist (Mr Corliss in this instance) just trying to take credit away from MJ,  as is their usual wont, in addition. And while I'm nitpicking about media journalists, I just 'have' to pick up that MJ insisted that "music videos" were called "SHORT films and not "hort films" ;)

LOVE is my message
LOVE is my message

katy perry didn't break MJ record, she simply tied it with 5 #1.... unfortunately

Tabinformed
Tabinformed

Good catch "LOVE is my message." Even the author was embarrassed by that record being tied. Katy Perry crafted 5 songs that were in the #1 spot but the album "Teenage Dream" will never even come close to the 40 million in sales of BAD.

I am happy that Spike Lee took on the challenge of showcasing this genius artist, Michael Jackson. The media was too busy stalking him and judging every little move Jackson made when they could have been focusing on his artistry and told the real story. Thankfully, Spike Lee is perserving an important piece of history.