It’s me, the self-ordained savior of cinema(s) post-Covid.
When (…if? sad face) theaters rise from their Corona ruins and ruination, they’ll desperately require product that lures audiences back to their old movieGOING — and not movie-staying — ways. And in my perpetual quest to balance the artistic with the commercial — thereby combatting Disney’s orgies comprised damn-near exclusively of the latter that dominate venues
now when they’re open — one of MANY needed solutions might be found in the documentary genre/medium (depending on your personal definition).
Write All Nite’s chronicled the genre/medium’s (ditto) elevation to bankability in recent years, and back in 2012, Spike Lee may have paved a path to merge the form with Hollywood’s preferred moneymaking machines: franchise fare.
His Bad 25 is a 2+ hour documentary about ONE (1!) Michael Jackson album. Whereas most docs about famous figures attempt to somehow tell their whole life story in a few short hours, Spike focuses the proceedings by letting the Bad album itself set the parameters of the scope of his explorations. The documentary is broken into individual sections, each a track-by-track deep-dive into one song on the album, one after another, told through gold-standard archival materials and new interviews with direct participants, luminary fans, expert scholars, and anyone else we’d want to hear from, all detailing the behind-the-scenes process of their creation, how the public received them, and a myriad of interpretations regarding their “true meaning”.
By rooting the documentary in the specific music on one specific album, Spike avoids the superficial overviews that are often the bread-and-butter of these sorts of hagiographic biographies. In fact, his second documentary about the Pop-King, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, demonstrates how even broadening the structure from one album to a themed portion of a career — in this case, the solo songs MJ wrote himself from his Motown days through Off the Wall — can still produce baggier, more scatterbrained results than an affair that revolves around the natural demarcation lines of an individual piece of art.
Now imagine a SERIES of documentaries like Bad 25, each dedicated to illuminating just one of any of the many albums in the history of music that deserve such a laudatory, individual-track treatment. Speaking of which, this franchise-to-be will inevitably suffer from hagiographic obnoxiousness — because good luck securing the rights to these world-class tunes and all the historical resources associated with them without appeasing the rights-holding powers-that-be — but that’s a seemingly unavoidable downside that Bad 25 more than compensates for through the power of sheer enlightenment.
This potentially cinema(s)-saving franchise could be like Michael Apted’s Up series, but actually financially-lucrative. And there’s a logical place for it to start (or, I guess, continue):
Since Spike’s now made documentaries about Michael Jackson’s first albums and Bad, he should really fill in the gap. That’s right; it’s time for him to finish the trilogy by tackling the album in between.
You may have heard of it:
Now tell me you wouldn’t get your ass to a theater (when it’s objectively safe to do so) to see a documentary that devotes one section each to breaking down “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and then “Baby Be Mine” and then “The Girl Is Mine” (someone get Paul McCartney on the phone!) and then “Thriller” and then “Beat It” and then “Billie Jean” and then “Human Nature” and then “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and then “The Lady in My Life”.
I rest my case.