Off The Wall

0_0_3430949_00_320wThank god for Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese’s career second acts as documentary filmmakers. I just rewatched Scorsese’s Bob Dylan film NO DIRECTION HOME and, while I know it’s Dylan-controlled, it’s still a great story beautifully told. Lee’s new film about Michael Jackson’s OFF THE WALL is equally interesting. For once, there’s no mention of Joe Jackson’s tyranny, MJ’s predatory sexuality, chimps, or Lisa Marie Presley – just a musical study of Jackson’s life from childhood up until his breakthrough with OFF THE WALL. In most biography of him, they use the word “genius” to explain how his music came about, sort of in the way you’d use “magic” to describe how Harry Potter gets from London to Hogwarts. Lee interviews Jackson’s producers, Berry Gordy, Quincy Jones, the guys from Philly International, songwriters, and musicians all involved with it to really take the album apart in a great way. Jackson only wrote three songs on this one (all but two (?) on THRILLER) but this is the one Lee is citing as Jackson’s musical and personal breakthrough in getting away from his family. Seeing Jackson argue with his brothers on stage during the Victory (?) tour was kind of shock, too. You don’t see him angry much. This is Jackson at a peak of cool and musical creativity for me – when THRILLER came out, all I can remember is the red jacket, the glove, all the SGT. PEPPERY goofiness. Jackson meets Reagan, all that. That’s my memory, anyway, and I’m sure it’s colored by time and my bias against Jackson’s pop supremacy. I was listening to Talking Heads and Squeeze by then, and I wrote him off. Lee’s documentary is a great answer to my teenage rockism.

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