12 – 93mins – 2016
WHEN THE WORLD IS ON YOUR SHOULDER…
Back in 2012, The Estate of Michael Jackson went all-out with a mega-impressive, multi-platform cornucopia of releases to celebrate the silver anniversary of 1987’s Bad album. Mouth-watering for diehard fans (amongst which I count myself), the mix of CD, DVD, regular, deluxe, super-deluxe and standalone formats confounded and overwhelmed casual music listeners, and the project did not hit the sales target Sony Music were hoping for.
The outcome of this was that acclaimed director Spike Lee’s anticipated feature-length Bad 25 documentary was somewhat overshadowed by album, concert and bonus disc releases, to such a degree that when it finally saw a home video release the following year, it was quietly snuck out as a web-store exclusive which, to this day, is rarely in stock.
For these reasons, The Estate have taken a more stripped back approach in releasing Lee’s follow-up passion piece on the King of Pop’s seminal debut solo LP, Off The Wall. So, gone are the confusing multi-disc bundles chock-full of club-friendly remixes, demos and rarities, gone are the live album and concert tour DVDs, and gone are the fan-servicing super-deluxe packages replete with programmes, t-shirts and posters. In their place we get the new documentary (on your choice of either DVD or Blu-ray format) together with the original 1979 album, as the artist originally released it – oh, and a piece of chalk, to graffiti the gatefold ‘wall’ in any cover-inspired way you see fit!The loyal fanbase will bemoan the omission of additional content (after all, who doesn’t already own multiple copies of Off The Wall?), but there’s something to be said – in this digital age of self-compiled playlists and shuffle buttons – for presenting Michael’s definitive, untouched vision for a new generation to appreciate. Meanwhile, older generations have the opportunity to rediscover this culturally significant album which is often unfairly overshadowed by the monster industry-shaping landmarks which followed.
I will shamefully confess that prior to this sets’ release last Friday, it had been a good few years since I last played the album front-to-back, but what instantly hit me as I soaked it in anew, was the energy and youthful exuberance which shines through, not only on the disco-infused hit singles everyone knows (Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Rock With You, Working Day And Night), but even on the lesser-known album tracks – including saccharine-sweet McCartney-penned ditty Girlfriend, which is generally dismissed as an easy skip!
So, what of Lee’s mouthful-monikered film? The Do The Right Thing director sticks to a very similar style and structure as on Bad 25, editing knockout performance footage and archival interviews with the man himself alongside present day talking heads of friends, family, musical collaborators and famous fans to best tell the incredible story of Michael’s phenomenal journey from cherubic lead signer in a Motown pop band to artistic juggernaut and biggest star on the planet. Like before, the second half delves deeper into the creation process with a track-by-track examination of the 1979 LP.
Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall is a fascinating and inspiring film packed with production tidbits and behind the scenes anecdotes which is clearly crafted with L.O.V.E.. It benefits from a trimmer runtime than its ungainly predecessor (Estate executive John Branca allegedly requested a tighter edit) and fewer pointless testimonials from five minute wonders who never met the man. Sure, John Legend, Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams and The Weekend do all feature, but their contribution is more insightful and heartfelt than Justin Bieber’s gushing over Bad.
What most touched me as the feature drew to a close was how – even after 25 years of fervent fandom – Spike Lee still managed to open my eyes to the spellbinding talent, humility and drive which made Michael Joseph Jackson a real one off; truly irreplaceable. I will happily admit to welling up on multiple occasions as it hit home – not for the first or last time – how much this special man has inspired, brightened and impacted my life. His work will continue to entertain and amaze and, thanks to documentaries such as this one, his legacy will continue to burn bright for generations to come.
Chalk this one up as a success!