“Michael may be the purest talent I’ve ever seen. He’s incapable of a false moment.”
– Director Sidney Lumet, on Michael Jackson in “The Wiz.”
Michael Jackson, along with his almost otherworldly talent, was always one of the most emotional performers. In the pantheon with James Brown, Judy Garland, Jackie Wilson, and a handful of other electric live performers, Jackson’s onstage persona and performing ability was akin to the Big Bang, there was no end to the expansion. People responded to him personally, and, because he started out so young, a generation grew up with him, identified with him, watched in awe at his transformations. Spike Lee’s documentary “Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall,” premiering on February 5th on Showtime, is as emotional as its subject matter. Kobe Bryant, interviewed in the documentary, says at one point, “It’s easy for people to get sidetracked. They talk about his complexion. They don’t focus on what this man was, and how he was that.” What with the tabloid frenzy of Michael Jackson’s life, not to mention his early death, Lee’s documentary is a welcome corrective as well as an almost aggressive act of redress and celebration. It does not get “sidetracked.” It’s about Michael Jackson’s work, and how he worked. Maybe most pleasingly, it’s a track-by-track history lesson of Jackson’s 1979 album “Off the Wall,” an album that still gets so much radio play today that if you didn’t know better you might think it was released last weekend.
The plot points of Jackson’s early life (the rise of the Jackson 5 on Motown, their jump to Epic, Michael emerging as the solo star, culminating in Off the Wall) may be well-known to those who grew up in that era but Lee presents it in a way that passes the information on to a new generation. When there is an artist as big as Michael Jackson was, as important, as … improbable, really (and it’s more improbable the more you learn), it’s essential that an understanding of the achievement of that art is passed on (especially to kids who may only know him as the weird man in sunglasses on the cover of every tabloid). A film like Lee’s says: “See what he did? See how much space he created for others? For you? Honor that.”
To read the rest of this great review of Spike Lee’s tribute documentary to Michael Jackson please click link below to be redirected to RogerEbert.com