Twenty-five years to the day after Michael Jackson released his chart-topping album “Bad,” director Spike Lee rolled out his documentary on the making of the album at the Venice Film Festival.
“Bad 25” features informal footage shot by Jackson himself and recordings of his vocal exercises. There are also interviews with personalities he influenced -- including Mariah Carey, Cee Lo Green, Kanye West and even Justin Bieber.
Lee’s two-hour artistic tribute completely dismisses the tabloid reports of Jackson’s bizarre personal life, his pet monkey, plastic surgery and oxygen tank.
“It’s like saying there’s a cobweb on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” says producer-composer Quincy Jones early on in “Bad 25.”
The documentary gives a blow-by-blow account of how the “Bad” album came about, focusing on the music videos for a more visual moviegoer experience.
Director Martin Scorsese is interviewed at the start about his 18-minute video for the “Bad” single, shot in the New York subway. Scorsese confesses that Michael’s signature crotch touch was a surprise to him -- and kept it in because it didn’t look inappropriate.
We hear of Jackson’s rivalry with Prince, and their frosty meeting, at which Prince appeared with a voodoo box that Jackson was convinced would put a spell on him.
Jackson had a motivational message of “100 million albums” which he inscribed in a mirror even before “Bad” came out, so determined was he to match and exceed the popularity of the previous album “Thriller.” His record producer also notes that Jackson had a business mind and would count his royalties.
Many segments are devoted to Jackson’s dance moves and choreographies. The film shows his well-publicized admiration of Fred Astaire and classic musicals, as well as of the more recent “All That Jazz.”
The movie ends with participants describing where they were when they heard of his death. The final shots, taken at the end of a mega-concert, are of Jackson saluting the audience with his arms stretched out in a crucifixion-like position.
“For me, this is a love letter to Michael,” said Lee, in a “Bad” T-shirt and a black beret, at a Venice news conference after the screening.
Lee said he and Jackson were close in age, and he related to the pop star: “I had the afro, the look, but singing and dancing: that’s where it stopped.”
One of the main reasons he did the film was because its producers “wanted to just concentrate on the music,” he said,
Lee heard of Jackson’s death while speaking at a Cannes conference. He flew back to the U.S. and was “out of it” for months, he said. Realizing he only had one Jackson album on his digital player, Lee bought every CD the star recorded and for the next year only played his music.
The 69th Venice Film Festival continues through Sept. 8. Information: http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/
Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend, Warwick Thompson on London theater and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.