Spike Lee on His New Michael Jackson Doc and Going After MTV
And when you fill in the gaps between “ABC” and Off the Wall, you see how he he took all of those influences and just synthesized them when he went solo.
That’s what we’re trying to do: connect the dots. “The Journey from Motown to Off the Wall” — we called it that for a reason.
It’s funny to hear people in the documentary saying that they didn’t think Quincy Jones would be the right person to produce the album — that he was too square and “jazzy.”
As [songwriter] Kenny Gamble says in the movie, “A&R people … they don’t know!” [Laughs] There were people there that did not want him to make that album and thought he was the wrong fit — that’s a fact. But what’s funny is, after he made the album, absolutely no one was saying that! Then it was, hey Quincy, can you give us more of that Off the Wall sound? They worked well together, he and Michael. Three great albums, man.
Some Jackson family members are conspicuous by their absence — were they opposed to you making this movie?
There are just some issues between the estate and the family … that’s the bottom line. Everyone was invited, and those who participated came on board. It really was as simple as that.
You worked with Michael in the 1990s, right?
In 1996, yeah — the “They Don’t Care About Us” videos, off the HIStory album. We did two of them, actually: We did the prison version and then we went to Brazil and did a version there. He was really wonderful to work with; these were some of the best times I’ve ever had on a set. It wasn’t like were best friends or anything, and I never saw him after we did those videos. But it was a great experience. He knew what he was doing.
You’ve said you can still see a lot of joy in Michael as he’s working these songs out. Is it hard to watch some of this footage and not think about everything that comes after?
It’s not hard for me; maybe it’s hard for you, but not for me! No disrespect, but we’re concentrating on a very specific period of his life. I’m not looking forward, I’m looking back. The whole point of the documentary, to me, was to just deal with the music, and not all that other stuff. I want to remind people that he made this incredible music, and tell them how he got there. I got to do it with Bad, I got to do it with Off the Wall — and hopefully, I’ll get to do it with Thriller!