Spike Lee's look back at the Bad old days

By Helen Barlow

Spike Lee marks the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Bad with a documentary breaking the album down, song by song. Helen Barlow reports.

Filmmaker Spike Lee. Photo / Supplied
Filmmaker Spike Lee. Photo / Supplied

Spike Lee may be a movie maker but his latest foray into documentary - a look at the making of Bad Michael Jackson's album from 1987 - will only be seen on television.

Lee feels sorry about that, explaining he had fought for a few gala screenings of Bad 25 in the US.

"I just hope you have a big-ass widescreen TV with speakers all around," the 55-year-old film-maker says in his inimitable fashion.

Lee's doco shows the late King of Pop's painstaking approach to the album's production and promotion. Instead of a conventional music video he made a short film for each track, most famously collaborating with Martin Scorsese on an 18-minute movie for the title track.

Lee re-traces the creation of each song and short film interviewing those involved - though not producer Quincy Jones - and there are many famous faces along the way including Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, then back-up singer Sheryl Crow and Kanye West.

Lee directed the short film for They Don't Really Care About Us, a song from Jackson's HIStory album, though he had already known the singer for many years.

"I think there must have been some part of my film-making that Michael liked for me to do the short film for him," Lee recalls. "The HIStory album was divided in half, between greatest hits and new material. So he said, 'I am going to come to your house and play all the new material and you get to choose what song you like'. Michael played me all the new songs and I chose Stranger in Moscow and he said, 'No, no, you are not doing that one! You are doing They Don't Really Care About Us!' I said, 'Michael, if you had just told me I would have done it!' He thought that would be the one I would choose but I didn't."

Though the obvious choice might have been to make a feature film about the creation of Thriller, which remains the best-selling album of all time, Lee explains there were three reasons why they decided on Bad, which itself produced a record five No 1 hits.

"[Firstly] it was to commemorate the 25th anniversary on August 31 during the Venice Film Festival; number two, Bad has been overlooked because it directly followed Thriller; and number three, Bad is where Michael really creatively started to stretch, writing nine of the 11 songs."

Jackson also wanted to promote an edgier image through the album, though as with all his work Bad was above all a huge celebration of African-American culture, notes Lee, whose film also touches on Jackson's rivalry with Prince at the time.

"Several people say in the documentary that Bad was like a signal to black people to remember who they are and where they come from. If you think about the Bad video, having Wesley Snipes in it [who Lee later cast in Mo' Better Blues and as the lead in Jungle Fever] and having it take place in Harlem which is the capital of black America, that stuff's no accident."

The final shot in Bad 25 shows Jackson with his arms outstretched in 1988 at London's Wembley Stadium. He was performing a poignant rendition of his signature song, Man in the Mirror, in what Lee considers his best concert during the world tour.

Has Lee ever thought to make a fictional film about Jackson? "About him?" the pint-sized powerhouse bellows in response. "Who's going to play Michael Jackson? What, are you gonna get some Michael Jackson impersonator? I can't do it. I can't talk about anybody else, but I cannot do a biopic of Michael Jackson. That's not for me."

Who: Spike Lee
What: Bad 25, a look back at Michael Jackson's 1987 album
When and where: Prime, 9.35pm Monday
Also: Lee features in an episode of Who Do you think You Are at 10.40pm, after the Monday screening of Bad 25 on Prime

- TimeOut

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