Spike Lee's 'love letter' to Michael Jackson
- 19 September 2012
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
It's 25 years since the release of Michael Jackson's Bad - his follow-up to Thriller, the most commercially successful album in music history.
To commemorate the anniversary, film-maker Spike Lee has directed Bad 25, a documentary that speaks to the key people behind the making of the album.
"Why Bad? Why not the story of Thriller?" muses Spike Lee.
"Well, I think Bad is right up there with the great albums of all time and also it's a much more interesting story. Don't forget, there were four or five years between the releases of the two albums, and some thought Michael's star might wane.
"Of course he didn't think that - it's well documented that he wanted to sell even more copies of Bad. He was aiming to sell 100 million.
"That was never going to happen, but in Bad we see the first album that was made for stadium pop. And, unlike Thriller, this album spawned five number one singles. It was a sensation."
Eventually, Bad sold more than 30 million copies and produced a string of hits including Man in the Mirror, Dirty Diana, Bad, The Way You Make Me Feel and I Just Can't Stop Loving You.
After being granted exclusive access to the Jackson archives, Lee's film looks at the story behind each track.
"I was approached by both Sony Music and the Michael Jackson Estate to make this, " he explains, "and one of the reasons I was so glad to do it was because it was going to focus on the music of Michael Jackson, and not so much of the celebrity.
"There have been too many years when we all, myself included, concentrated on stuff about Michael Jackson that has nothing to do with the music.
"Yes, he was eccentric, but this isn't the point of the film. This is the time to look at the man's genius. I see this as my love letter to him."
Lee is a contemporary of Jackson's - born a year before the singer.
"I grew up watching him on the TV," Lee recalls. "I wanted to be him.
"He really was the first black superstar and he was an inspiration to my generation.
"And then eventually I got to work with him."
Lee directed Jackson in 1996, in the music video for They Don't Care About Us. He remembers him as "the politest man I will ever meet in my life... he was so considerate, he was almost saintly".
"He took the video, and made it into an art form. Beat It, Billie Jean, Thriller, Bad - those videos will stand forever."
Filming for Bad took place in the New York subway, and starred a little-known Wesley Snipes. It was directed by Martin Scorsese.
"No other artist of the time could have contemplated it, pulling in some of the most celebrated directors of the age to make a seven minute video."
"He [Jackson] would never, ever call them music videos. To him, they were short films."
With his exclusive access to the family archives, Lee stumbled upon hours of previously unseen material, including Jackson in rehearsals.
"It was all in unmarked boxes, all jumbled up. We had to spend hours going through it, in case we missed something.
"But it was worth it, because looking at this material you can see him practising, you can see him becoming the great artist he was. It's a great reminder that genius doesn't just happen, it's the product of years and years of hard work."
Lee says when he heard of the superstar's death in June 2009, it took him "nearly a month to shake off that feeling of sadness".
"Then I realised I only had one of his albums, Off the Wall. So I went and downloaded every piece of music he ever did.
"He belongs to an incredible tradition of black music, from the Temptations, to James Brown, to Stevie Wonder, but he surpassed all of their achievements.
"The kid was singing and dancing every day from when he was five years old. He was an absolute perfectionist and he wanted to be the best. He was always, always practising and he was tireless.
"He knew you didn't get something for nothing, that brilliance didn't come from out of thin air. He may have been called the King of Pop, but he worked hard for that crown."