Jackson and iconic director Martin Scorsese teamed up for an 18-minute, big-budget epic. Filming near condemned Harlem buildings, Scorsese paired Jackson with a young Wesley Snipes for a dramatic black-and-white confrontation – then the video's second act bursts to life with a West Side Story-style combat dance staged in a Brooklyn subway station. "We went over schedule; it was two and a half weeks of the dance sequence alone," said Scorsese. "I was mesmerized by it. The video monitor made us all dancers."
Martin Scorsese, director: I remember meeting him at a bungalo at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He was very quiet. The first thing he asked me was, Do you know about
Michaelangelo? And I said, Yes! And we started talking about Michaelangelo. He’d just discovered his paintings – the Sistine Chapel and the sculptures. He was taken by all of that.
It was a different form for me. The big issue really was the temptation to do this really major dance piece with camera moves and cutting which we had planned on page based on his choreography. And working with Michael Chapman, who choreographed the fight scenes in Raging Bull. Shooing the big dance scene was the allure of it. Michael was never a person who was overly enthusiastic. He was quiet. Accepting. How should I put it? He was very precise about what he wanted in the choreography. He was concerned, like with any great dancer, they like to be seen full figure. But that wasn’t the case because I’d planned other things. The use of close-ups, and tracking him. Eventually he understood that. There was never any resistance, but questions. He was open to everything.
The most interesting thing about it, is when we cast the picture, Wesley was the man. Michael went through those scenes in the film and he was toe-to-toe with every one of those aators. It was quite moving and powerful performance I thought. Like that scene in the hallway. We did that maybe 40 times. He stood up to Wesley, and Wesley is a wonderful actor. Formidable. Strong presence. And Michael did it. It was quite something.
We shot it in Harlem, and when he goes home to his apartment, he was very quiet looking around. The apartment was quite nice, actually. But it was in Harlem. Across the street the buildings were torn down or condemned. He took me aside, "Do peole live here?" I said, Well, yes, this is actually a well-done apartment!…I think he was overhwlmed by what he saw…These tenements had, when you come in the front hall, there’s an apartment in the back on the ground floor. There was an unfortunate person in there, in bed prety much, coughing and seemed like on his last days. Michael said, Do you see what’s in there? And I said, Yeah I know. He was in the place and it worked for him. It worked for him as a performance, but his compassion for the people came through. It was very moving.
He was very sweet. He came to our apartment. My mother cooked dinner. He was very easy to be with. There was a genuine sweetness about him. And treating everybody the same way. Didn’t matter who it was — my family, the crew. The only time he expressed [a production demand], and again it was out of compassion — the older man is getting mugged and gets pushed at one point. And we did it a couple of takes and he was nervous about that. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt. We didn’t know if we had it on film and we said, Let’s do it again. And he begged me not to do it again. He said, 'Please, this shouldn’t be violent.' So I didn’t do it.