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Spike Lee's 'Bad25' reveals Michael Jackson as a gifted musician

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By USA Today
Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

The subject of Spike Lee's latest documentary is a legendary talent who was better known as a tabloid figure in the past two decades of his life.

But with “Bad25” — an in-depth look at the creative process behind Michael Jackson's 1987 album on its silver anniversary — the director re-introduces us to the staggeringly gifted young man the world knew before all the circuses and scandals.

“For too long, people focused on that other stuff,” Lee says. “When you do that with an artist, you do it to the detriment of the art. People are beginning to refocus on Michael Jackson's music now.”

Lee spoke with numerous musicians, choreographers and filmmakers who collaborated with Jackson on “Bad,” among them Martin Scorsese. There's also archival footage of Jackson and commentary from stars who were influenced by him, among them Mariah Carey and Kanye West.

“People at the top of their fields make it look so easy,” Lee says. “You think Michael Jordan came out of the womb dunking, or Frank Sinatra was born with that voice. But these people bust their (butts). Michael Jackson sang for his supper from the time he was 5.”

The documentary, which airs at 9:30 p.m. Thursday on ABC, reflects on the pressure that “Bad” posed in following 1982's “Thriller,” which remains the best-selling album of all time. But the emphasis is on Jackson's artistry.

“Sheryl Crow (Jackson's onetime backup singer) said he could change the molecules in a room,” Lee says. “I never heard a description like that. But it's very apropos.”

Although Lee himself worked with Jackson on short films for the single “They Don't Care About Us” in 1996, he never considered adding personal insights.

“We weren't close — I'm not going to front,” Lee says. “He was going through some things then.”

The ABC cut is about half as long as the 131-minute version that earned acclaim at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, but a full-length DVD is expected early next year.

“Of all my documentaries, this one will be the most watched ever,” Lee says. “Thanksgiving night in America? That's huge.”

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