Bad 25, legendary filmmaker Spike Lee’s documentary about the making of Michael Jackson’s Bad album -- not to be confused with Bad 25, the CD/DVD box set reissue of the album, which comes out today -- made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend.
The documentary, which first screened in Venice this past spring, celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of The King of Pop’s massive follow-up to Thriller by seamlessly weaving the greater narrative of Jackson’s life into a track by track breakdown of the album by Bad collaborators, fellow musicians, industry experts and famous fans.
In honour of that structure, we’ve broken down our thoughts about Bad 25 into a list of eleven things we learned from the film.
1. Not enough time has passed since Michael died...
...for those who cared about him to deal with his life and art with much distance or criticism. The film takes on an almost reverential tone in many cases, and it's clear in many of the interviews that the grief is simply too raw to dig any deeper. Occasionally this leads to moments of overindulgence, like the extended montage of people crying over his death toward the end of the film, but it also leads to some moments of genuine sweetness.
3. Martin Scorsese, in retrospect, seems a little baffled..
...by what he did with the music video or "short film" for the title track. Which is OK, really, because, in retrospect, Jackson's subway dance-off against Wesley Snipes is almost as silly as it is cool.
4. Kanye West, once again, manages to make almost everything about himself.
Every time he shows up on screen, it almost sounds like he's saying something about Michael Jackson and/or Bad. But then, as he gets going, it turns out he's really just saying something else about Kanye West.
2. No reverence is strong enough...
...to make people pretend that Jackson's duet with Stevie Wonder, "Just Friends," was a good idea. The song's segment in the doc is little more than a bunch of people gently admitting that everyone involved should probably have picked a better song for the meeting between the two Motown vets. Then Lee quickly moves on.
5. Justin Bieber claims that his "Baby" video was based on the short film for "The Way You Make Me Feel."
Never mind the fact that "The Way You Make Me Feel" takes place on skid row and "Baby" takes place in a bowling alley.
6. Justin Bieber tries to do the famous lean..
...from the "Smooth Criminal" video every time he takes off in a private jet. (On a related note, my theory is that The Biebs has been included in this film for comic relief.)
7. Bad wasn't just an album; it was an all-encompassing vision.
And, as such, Lee doesn't just document the making of the album, he also digs into the accompanying short films, choreography, tour plans and personal motives that went into making the project.
8. Michael Jackson was a very meticulous artist and craftsperson.
Through archival footage and interviews, the film documents the conception and execution of every single piece of the aforementioned package. The level of detail and vision put into each decision is staggering.
9. The California Raisins are serious business.
Sometimes the power of Jackson's vision and ideas could be taken to bizarre ends, perhaps best exemplified by a strange piece of home video in which the pop star goes into great detail about the expressions, outfits and internal motivation that his claymation backup dancers should have in the California Raisins ad he was shooting.
11. At heart, Spike Lee is just a giant fanboy.
And the film he's made might not have a perfectly balanced or unbiased perspective on the King of Pop, but it is a genuinely fond flick that was made by fans almost as geeky and invested as the people who are going to be watching it.
10. Even if we can't or shouldn't separate the art from the artist..
...we probably shouldn't let unnecessary gossip and minutiae get in the way of artistic appreciation. Although he conveniently ignores any and all allegations of child abuse in the film, Lee does make a good case for the way that less important issues, from Bubbles to the Elephant Man's bones, often stood in the way of people taking a more genuine look at the music that Jackson was making.