Spike Lee Revisits Michael Jackson's Career for 'BAD 25' Documentary

'He became a prisoner of his fame,' says director

Spike Lee attends the 69th Venice Film Festival at the Palazzo del Casino in Venice, Italy.
Dominique Charriau/WireImage
Spike Lee attends the 69th Venice Film Festival at the Palazzo del Casino in Venice, Italy.
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At the outset of BAD 25 – the documentary film celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Bad album – director Spike Lee quickly dispenses with talk of the pop superstar's personal struggles, diving right into the artistic perfectionism that drove him to achieve his career milestones. "Hopefully, that's what this documentary is about – it's gonna have people return to focusing on the music, his art, which I feel is his legacy, in addition to his children," Lee, dressed in a white BAD 25 T-shirt, told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie had its North American premiere over the weekend, after debuting in Venice 25 years to the day since Bad's release.

To piece together the making of Jackson's landmark LP, Lee unearthed archival footage from studio sessions and music video shoots and conducted interviews with Jackson's many collaborators, including Quincy Jones, Martin Scorsese, Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow, and stars who were inspired by his music, from Kanye West and Mariah Carey to Questlove and Justin Bieber.

The film, which will get a television premiere on ABC on November 22nd, follows the making of Bad track by track; though it can feel clinical at times, it also revels in cool details,  like the origin of Jackson's gravity-defying lean in "Smooth Criminal" and his famous expression, "Shamon!" Then, abruptly, Lee shifts to Jackson's death in the summer of 2009, collecting reactions from his interview subjects, many of whom choke back tears and break down. "Those were all real, raw emotions that were displayed," said Lee.

One of the most impactful statements in the documentary comes from music journalist Danyel Smith. "We should all be ashamed," she says. "The way that I interpret that," said Lee, "is that Michael should be with us. He should be here."

On Tuesday, Jackson's estate and Epic/Legacy Recordings will release a BAD 25 CD/DVD deluxe package, with three discs' worth of remastered versions of the LP's original tracks plus bonus material, including previously unreleased songs ("Price of Fame," "Song Groove (A/K/A Abortion Papers"), the first release of Jackson's 1998 Wembley Stadium concert on DVD, and remixes by EDM artists Nero and Afrojack.

"Listen to the song 'Price of Fame,' which he wrote specifically about the situation," said Lee, holding a copy of the release. "How can you get privacy when you're the most recognizable person on the planet?" 

"Did you see the disguises he had?" Lee added with a laugh, referring to a moment in the film that shows photographs of Jackson wearing intricate facial disguises. "He had to do that. He couldn't go anywhere in the world without there being a riot. Man, I wouldn't wish that on anybody. He became a prisoner of his fame. I mean, I'm not rewriting Michael's titles, but [the song] could've been [called] 'Prisoner of Fame,' instead of 'Price of Fame.'"