“A couple of years ago,” begins Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist, “before he set up his low-budget comeback film Red Hook Summer, Spike Lee was planning another NYC-set project, Brooklyn Loves MJ, with the story taking place on the night of the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson in June 2009. Said to star Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Anthony Mackie and more, the film never came together (although Lee told us recently that he hoped to get it going again)… And then there’s the director’s latest film, and his second of 2012, Bad 25. The subject matter is less weighty for the man behind such stirring docs as 4 Little Girls and When The Levees Broke, but the results are no less pleasing.”
“Michael Jackson revisionism gets a huge boost with Spike Lee’s new film, a terrifically warm, affectionate and celebratory study of Jackson’s 1987 album Bad,” writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. “Lee wants to clear away the tabloid smoke and spite, and bring the focus back to Jackson’s professionalism, his craftsmanship, his artistry and his pop genius; the movie defiantly insists that Jackson was and is superior to his detractors.”
“On mirrors wherever he went after Thriller,” writes Time‘s Richard Corliss, “Jackson scrawled ‘100,000,000’—the estimated worldwide sales of Thriller, still the best-selling album of all time and the winner of a record eight Grammy awards. Bad topped out at about 40 million, but it was the first album to birth five No. 1 singles (a record broken, we’re embarrassed to note, by the six No. 1 songs from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams CD). The Bad videos—or, as MJ insisted on calling them, ‘short films’—cemented Jackson’s stature as a movie star who never appeared in a hit movie; thematically adventurous and expertly choreographed, they provided the crucial link between golden-age Hollywood musicals and YouTube…. The performer’s fans—and all sentient movie lovers—who can’t get to Venice or to the Toronto Film Festival, where Bad 25 is the closing-night attraction on Sep. 15, can catch this essential pop-culture artifact Thanksgiving Day on ABC.” Also in Time: Lily Rothman moderates an oral history of the making of the album.
“Though the film is, of course, branded upfront as a Spike Lee joint, the straight-ahead treatment of Bad 25 betrays less of the firebrand filmmaker’s touch than much of his nonfiction work,” notes Guy Lodge in Variety. “Barring the occasional jovial quip from behind the camera, his personality is largely muted so as not to impose on that of Jackson, with whom Lee enjoyed a firsthand friendship…. Though very much a gathering of a one-way admiration society, Bad 25 is refreshingly uninterested in celebrity mythos, focusing principally on the practical and physical nuts and bolts of Jackson’s talent as a songwriter, producer, dancer and vocalist.”
In the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney points out Lee’s “exhaustive attention to the making of Martin Scorsese’s short film for the album’s title track. No less fascinating is his recap of the multiple choreographic influences that went into the video for ‘Smooth Criminal’; ranging from Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon to Soul Train to Bugs Bunny to Buster Keaton. The wealth of primo talking-heads fodder makes this of interest far beyond Jackson fans to anyone curious about the production and marketing of popular music.”
“A key theme that emerges from these videos, and others from the album, is Jackson’s mounting preoccupation at the time of Bad’s release with appearing to be as black and straight as possible,” notes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “Unfortunately, the obvious significance of this goes unexplored.”
“While defiantly hagiographic in nature,” concedes Matt Mueller at Thompson on Hollywood, “with reams of talking heads espousing Jackson’s genius, it also acts as a supremely watchable and entertaining reminder that before the scandals and the media-massaged freak show, he was simply a very talented man-boy who loved music and dancing and devoted his entire life to being great at both, with sensational results for pop culture.”
Screen‘s Mark Adams insists, too, that Bad 25 is “more than a tribute film—it is a gripping examination of a great (and perhaps vastly misunderstood) talent.”
In Venice, where Lee received the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award, Bad 25 screened Out of Competition.
Updates, 9/15: “[E]xuberant, energizing, even at times elegiac, this is very much a straight ahead celebration of a particularly exceptional recording,” writes Jason Gorber at Twitch.
For the AV Club‘s Noel Murray, “given Jackson’s reputation as a creepy, perfectionist workhorse, it’s good to hear people talk about how good he was at improvisation, and to see examples of Jackson being soulful, on stage and video sets. There’s still not enough of the Jackson that his collaborators saw and loved—he’s still a little distant, even in the behind-the-scenes footage—but Bad 25 does make the case for the album as more than a cultural phenomenon but a pop masterpiece, as underrated as any album that sold 30 million copies could ever be.”
Venice and Toronto 2012: a guide to the coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.