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Q&A: Spike Lee on Bad25, Michael Jackson and why he loves Man in the Mirror
Q Given your documentary history — the church bombing in Birmingham and the hurricane in New Orleans — why make a Michael Jackson film?
A I’ve been a fan since I saw him as the lead singer of the Jackson Five on The Ed Sullivan Show — 1969, that was. I wanted to be one of the Jackson Five.
Q In 1987, when Bad was released, you were preparing School Daze. Were you as influenced by Jackson’s visuals as much as his music?
A I was just following what Michael did. He put a great emphasis on his short films and they set the standard and really made MTV, it was mutual. And many people told me that Michael, if he had lived longer, would’ve gone into directing films.
Q You directed Michael Jackson in the video for They Don’t Care About Us in 1996. What do you remember?
A It was one of the highlights of my filmmaking career.
Q Were you having flashbacks to yourself as a 12-year-old in front of the television?
A I wasn’t thinking about Ed Sullivan, I was thinking that I’ve got to do a job right, because I can’t let Michael down. I don’t want Michael being displeased.
Q Let’s talk about Bad, the album. At that time, were you a fan?
A Like everybody, I’d waited five years for the follow-up to Thriller. I remember, and I even put this in the film, that I didn’t understand the song Just Good Friends, the duet with Stevie Wonder. I don’t stand that song.
Q What do you mean?
A I don’t know why two great songwriters, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, would sing someone else’s song that’s not even good. Stevie’s a good friend of mine, too. He knew I was going to ask him about that song.
Q What don’t you like about it?
A Quincy [Jones, the album’s producer] says in the voice over, “I know I made a mistake.” It’s acknowledged.
Q Quincy also says he didn’t like Smooth Criminal. That’s my favourite song on the disc.
A They made 66 songs for Bad; you have to whittle them down.
Q With the record being re-released and you making this film, are you attempting to bring the focus back with Michael Jackson to the music?
A This is a re-examination. The way Michael was treated – Wacko Jacko – it’s criminal the stuff they wrote about him, so I do think a lot of people are going to go back and listen to this album. People were caught up in Thriller and Bad was a follow-up to Thriller and overshadowed, but it stands up on its own legs.
Q You mention the Wacko Jack stuff. Did that taint your impression of the man?
A I didn’t believe that stuff. I hate that stuff. And as we show in the film, that stuff hurt Michael. He’s a human being.
Q You ask everyone in the film where they were on June 25, 2009, when Michael passed. Where were you?
A I was in Cannes for an internet convention and at dinner in Monaco and I got the word. It messed me up for months.
Q Would you call this a personal film?
A All my films are personal. Especially my documentaries.
Q You’ve now spent two lives with Bad, as a music fan and as a documentarian. What’s your favourite song on the disc?
A Man in the Mirror. That’s the anthem and Michael sang the hell out of it.
Bad25, the record, is out Sept. 18 on Sony Records. The documentary by Spike Lee will premiere in November.