Spike Lee was a long-time fan of Michael Jackson and after his death in 2009 began thinking about how perceptions of the singer’s artistry had been hurt by his tawdry reputation.
This latest documentary, BAD 25, revisits Jackson’s 1987 album Bad and draws a portrait of the savvy businessman, talented singer-songwriter and consummate perfectionist who Lee sees as the real Michael Jackson.
'We wanted to concentrate on the man’s gifts, his work ethic and the creative process with the collaborators' —Spike Lee
BAD 25 airs on U.S. network ABC and Canadian network CTV 2 on Thursday evening.
"I think…Bad is not given the credit that it’s due. I think that Michael, his artistry, his creativity has been overlooked and people were focused on other stuff," says Lee, who is known for feature films such as Do The Right Thing and documentaries such as When the Levees Broke.
"I just wanted to be truthful. This was not going to be some Wacko Jacko wack-job," Lee said in an interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show recorded in September.
"We weren’t doing that. We wanted to concentrate on the man’s gifts, his work ethic and the creative process with the collaborators."
At the time Bad was being made, five years had passed since the recording of Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time and the work that crowned Jackson King of Pop in the 1980s.
Jackson was so fixated on topping that success, he wrote the figure 100 million time after time in hotel rooms and studios as he recorded. That was how many albums he wanted to sell.
He hired Richard Price to write the screenplay for the video of Bad and Martin Scorsese to direct it.
BAD 25 goes back to all those collaborators, with Lee interviewing them about the Jackson they knew. It involved sifting through hours of behind the scenes archival footage from the time . And it gathers interviews with stars such as Kanye West, Cee Lo Green and Mariah Carey who were inspired by Jackson.
Lee is an unapologetic fan of Jackson, having followed his career since the Jackson Five appeared on Ed Sullivan. He argues the press got fixated on the "Wacko Jacko" image and missed out on the creative genius.
Bad was not the only video made for that album. Richard Price the screenwriter said "I was told ‘We got to make Michael down with the homies, always with the brothers’. "
"Everything that Michael did was calculated. Dirty Diana – we’re going after the hard rock. I Can’t Stop Loving You – this is our ballad. Every single song was designed for a specific demographic."
With tracks like Man in the Mirror and The Way You Make Me Feel, it became the first record in history to spawn five consecutive number one singles on the Billboard chart.
BAD 25 looks back at the elements that made it a success and reflects on the price Jackson paid for his tabloid image.
"After that it was out of control. And there’s a price for it. In fact, the new CD Bad 25 comes with eight or nine songs [that] didn’t make the Bad album. One of them’s called The Price of Fame," Lee said.