Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Films of Martin Scorsese Part XVI: Michael Jackson's Bad

Michael Jackson’s Bad (1987) ** ½
Directed By:
Martin Scorsese.
Written By: Richard Price.
Starring: Michael Jackson (Daryl), Wesley Snipes (Mini Max), Alberto Alejandrino (Hispanic Man), Paul Calderon (Dealer), Horace Daily (Street Bum), Roberta Flack (Darryl's mother), Marvin Foster (Crack Customer), Greg Holtz Jr. (Cowboy), Adam Nathan (Tip), Jaime Perry (Ski), Pedro Sanchez (Nelson).

Martin Scorsese has always liked music. You can tell it from his first feature, where even then, he has rock music blaring on the soundtrack instead of a classic score. He knows precisely how to fit images and music together, and along with his editor Thelma Schoonmaker, they have created some of the most memorable sequences in history involving popular music in the movies. If Scorsese had been a few decades younger, I think that perhaps he would have gotten his directorial start in music videos – after all it has worked for David Fincher, Spike Jonze and a host of others. So Scorsese probably couldn’t resist the idea of directing at least a couple of music videos. The first one he did was for Michael Jackson’s Bad. But at almost 17 minutes, the video is more like a short movie than a classic music video. It tells a story from beginning to end, and fills up most of its time with dialogue. It’s actually a rather interesting little film.

In the video, Jackson plays Daryl, a kid from the projects who goes to school every day with the hopes of some day making it out. When he gets home every night, his mom is still working, and he hangs out with the wrong crowd, led by Mini Max (Wesley Snipes). Max and the gang pressure Daryl to go along with what they are doing, questioning his manhood if he doesn’t step up. Daryl agrees to help, but then when they are about to mug an elderly old man, Daryl tells him to run. He is then confronted by Max. “You aren’t down. You ain’t Bad” Daryl is about to show him just how “Bad” he is.

This part of the video, shot in black and white, is kind of interesting. The dialogue written by Richard Price, is over the top, but the actors do their best to sell it. Snipes especially rips into the dialogue with a fury, cackling wildly, and belittling Daryl. If you want to go all “auteur theory” on it, you could say that it does fit into the rest of Scorsese’s body of work, as it is about challenging the main character masculinity. The problem is, of course, Jackson. He hadn’t become a complete freak at this point, but he was well on his way. He is so small, so effeminate, speaks with such a high voice, that you never believe that the gang would want him in the first place. He’s the type of kid who they would beat up for his lunch money, not want to get involved in a criminal enterprise with,

Then the music starts. It’s here where the video kicks into high gear, and Scorsese lets his inner musical geek out. All of sudden, the video switches from black and white, to color, and team of dancers come out from behind cars and poles (they are in a parking garage), and Daryl lays the smack down on Max and his crew. Scorsese certainly knows how to stage dance sequences, and he does so with gusto here. And it must be said, that even if the song is cheesy ‘80s pop, it’s also kind of fun. Jackson, not really good at emoting while acting, comes to life once the song starts and he sells it wonderfully. If this part of the video proves anything about Scorsese, it’s that if anyone decides to remake West Side Story, they should beg him to direct. He’s that good at this.

When the music stops, we have a scene where Jackson is still kind of singing, tell Max that he is bad, and that if he doesn’t change, he’s going to get into trouble. This drags on for nearly a minute, and gets kind of boring to be honest with you.

Overall, I kind of enjoyed Bad. It is obviously just Scorsese letting loose and having fun – doing the musical he always wanted to do, but after the failure of New York, New York realized he didn’t really had in him (at least for a feature). Jackson is both the video’s strength – in the music sequences – and its downfall – in the dramatic one. There is a reason why everyone remembers Thriller, and fewer remember Bad. It’s a solid video, nothing more, nothing less.

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