This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The documentary doesn't premiere until a few hours after publication time; we got a screener.
'He Was Part Of Your Whole Life'
Should you make Spike Lee docu joint Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown To Off The Wall part of yours?
Michael Jackson is fascinating to me -- not all the tabloidy noise around his appearance and Neverland and the ugliness with the children, although I can't sit here and act like I'd turn up my nose at a true-crime doc about Jackson's doings, because I surely would not. But since his untimely death in 2009 (...Jesus H., it's been that long!), the heap of information that wasn't about his work has gotten moved to the side so that it's easier to see his music and his process.
That's what From Motown To Off The Wall is looking at, and per the title, it's a segment of his storied career that hasn't gotten a ton of attention.
Spike Lee directs. I adored his Katrina doc, and he's done concert films and comedy specials as well, in addition to seeming plugged into the music of this period in his scripted work (Summer Of Sam, e.g.).
His co-producers John Branca and John McClain (...heh) also produced This Is It, the doc about Jackson's prep for his farewell concerts in London, which is also a wonderful, if bittersweet, look at Jackson's process.
Doin' Your Homework
Not at all. One of the things I like about Lee as a filmmaker is that he so seldom seems to feel hindered by tradition or politesse. Not that he's a contrarian for its own sake, though sometimes he can be that; he's more about the love at the wake then the somber respect of the funeral, if that makes any sense/isn't inappropriate. He can come to a subject respectfully without feeling too obliged to it.
It doesn't hurt that the movie is about some historically great music, which is scoring some historically amazeballs attire. They should put those silver Beatle boots in the Smithsonian if they haven't already.
As with This Is It, there's an undertone of sadness, of longing. We forget the size of Jackson's artistic IQ, how curious he remained to the end about the best way to build a song and a dance and a song-and-dance. He was a genius storyteller who broke his ass to be as good as he was, and for all the shit that surrounded him -- and it was plenty and bears remembering -- I wonder to this day what the world might be like today if he had lived, and if someone had found a way to bring him back to earth more. Like, imagine his TED Talk.
...You feel a little blue now, right?
It's An Outrage!
I guess you could find some in the inciting incident that sent the Jacksons -- minus Jermaine, who had married Berry Gordy's daughter -- away from Motown, but: not really.
Intrusive Filmmaker Agenda
I wouldn't have minded some sterner critique, but the movie doesn't suffer from the lack of it, and when Lee puts himself into the movie -- guffawing off-camera when Rosie Perez is talking about poring over Tiger Beat to see who made MJ cry in "She's Out Of My Life"; talking about inviting his crush to The Wiz and getting negged, as an adorbles yearbook snap of Lee comes up onscreen -- it works.
It's hard to say; the documentary isn't really positioned that way. It's an expert blend of concert footage, talking-heads, TV appearances, The Wiz, and press photos that feels fresh even if we might have seen most of it before. You assume Lee gets access to archives others don't.
Gordy; Jackie and Marlon Jackson; Perez, Lee, Lee Daniels, and John Leguizamo; Kobe, which is sort of rando until you remember Lee did a doc on him too, about what it's like for a child prodigy to step into adulthood without his family group, which is solid insight; Joe Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell, David Byrne; everyone's in this thing, and almost all of them have cool intel about Jackson's photographic memory for dance, the way "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" is a universal party-pleaser, and so on.
In the sense of "auxiliary downloading," believe it.
Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown To Off The Wall premieres on Showtime Friday, February 5, at 9 PM ET.