Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off The Wall

The latest documentary on Michael Jackson features the journey that Michael took from being the sweet, uber talented child star/teen hearthrob and lead singer of the Jackson 5/Jacksons to the beginning of his legendary career. Few child stars become icons and legends in the field of entertainment and Michael was the most successful of them all. It is not highly documented about how Michael transitioned from one realm to another so well and successfully. Finally, Spike Lee's Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off The Wall, goes into the nitty gritty of how Michael made this rare and amazing transition. This review is not about what the documentary is focused on because it is obvious, but more about my honest opinions about certain things from the documentary. Even though I loved the film, there were some things that I noticed or looked into that I could not ignore. Finally, I will let you all know why I think that Spike should not do any more MJ related documentaries after the one on Thriller album. 

Spike Lee's second documentary on MJ, 2016.

The impact that Off the Wall made is immeasurable but before I get into all of that, I want to get into the details of the album. The album was released on August 10th, 1979 and it had four top ten hits, two were number one:

"Don't Stop Til You Get Enough":

The single reached to number one on October 13th, 1979.

"Rock With You":

The single reached number one on January 19, 1980.

"She's Out of My Life":

The song reached number ten on the billboard charts in 1980. 

"Off the Wall":

The single reached number five on the billboard charts in the Spring of 1980.

The album went to number three at the Pop charts and number one on the R&B/Soul charts and stayed on the Billboard Top 20 for 48 weeks. The album eventually sold 20 million copies worldwide and won countless awards. 

Michael with his brothers during the Jackson5 days. Spike Lee with Joe and Katherine Jackson.

The documentary discusses Michael's musical journey from being the lead singer of the iconic group, the Jackson 5/Jacksons, to his separation from Motown, going to Epic records and then to Philadelphia International Records and back to Epic. The film also goes into how Michael would continue to reach his greatness each time he was doing an album, movie, performance, when he works in the studio and his tours. Let me state that I loved the fact that Spike Lee included the Jackson family in the documentary. I stated this on one of my previous blog entries that Spike has to be put family in these documentaries because people who watch the film will know what his family have to say about Michael, what he was like as a child and how instant fame affected him. I want to also state that Marlon looks amazing for his age and the fact that he is a grandfather of five and is still with his wife after all of these years is amazing in the world of Jackson and Hollywood period. 

Michael with Berry Gordy during the Jackson 5 days. Spike Lee with Berry Gordy.

Michael's Motown family, Berry Gordy (the founder of Motown) and Suzanne DePasse gave the viewer an understanding of what was it like during the pinnacle of fame that the Jackson 5 had when they had 4 number one singles. Mr. Gordy mentions in the film that Michael was very focus on everything that he was doing in the studio and would watch his every move. He even stated that when his back was turn on Michael, he knew that Michael was looking right at him because he was that focus on what he was doing. Singer/songwriter Valerie Simpson talked about the amount of work that Michael would put in and how he always wanted to be greater than he was before. 

Michael during the Triumph tour, 1981.

I stated on one of the entries when discussing these Spike Lee films on Michael, that The Roots Drummer, Questlove must be in every one of these documentaries. The man knows his music and knows what he is talking about. He gives the viewer an understanding of being a fan and what he was doing when Off The Wall was released. There were a few celebrities in the film like director and creator of the show Empire, Lee Daniels, actress Rosie Perez and actor/comedian John Leguizmo who witnessed the time and can tell the viewer, some who was not born at that time, what it was like and what people were doing at the time. 

Michael during different times in his life, 1977, 1979 and 1981.

There were a few people who watched the documentary that did not understand why basketball icon Kobe Bryant and ballet dancer Misty Copeland were featured in the film. Michael inspired various people with his work and I feel that Spike wanted to show the range of people Michael influenced. With Kobe, people see him as a focused, talented basketball player who led the Los Angeles Lakers to a few Championship victories. That type of drive is what Kobe learned when he was friends with Michael. He explained that Michael would introduce him to entertainers like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire as to show him to learn from people who do something different and take something from them and apply them to what you do. Michael wanted to show Kobe to really study the greats and used what he learned in his own greatness. As for Misty Copeland, one of her inspirations was Michael's dancing and she studied Michael before she found her calling with ballet dancing. The film also gets into Michael's own inspirations from James Brown to Jackie Wilson and Sammy Davis Jr. and his meeting with Fred Astaire telling him how much he loved his work. 

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with the Jacksons in the 1970s and in recent years.

I liked that Spike interviewed musicians and producers who worked with Michael or studied his work. That is important to show because many people know that Michael was a great singer but his musicianship is not as known beyond the fan community. Many people do not know how detailed and skillful Michael was in the studio. Spike wanted to captured that by interviewing Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff the founders of the now defunct Philadelphia International Records. That part of the journey on Michael's music career has never really been fully discussed. I remembered being confused by it because at the time, Michael and the brothers left Motown, and  Berry Gordy kept the Jackson 5 name so the brothers had to changed their name to the Jacksons and decided to signed to Epic Records. At the time, the Jacksons were seen as hasbeens and no one was interested in what they were doing. It was when a decision was made to go to Philadelphia and work with Gamble and Huff to regain credibility and develop certain skills they needed. That was why they were signed to Philadelphia International Records. When they were there, the worked very differently then their days at Motown but it was challenge for them and it worked really well for them. They released two albums, The Jacksons and Goin' Places from the record company and had hits like "Enjoy Yourself" and "Show Me the Way To Go". After that, they went back to Epic records and recorded the album Destiny and the hits came. 

Michael talking about working with Quincy Jones during the Triumph tour from the Off The Wall documentary, 1981.

I think one of the best things about the documentary was that the viewer gets to understand how Michael worked in the studio and his drive to strive to be the best that he can be. I thought that Spike interviewing the songwriters and producers of Off The Wall, Destiny and Triumph was a great way to let the viewer know how Michael was in the studio. The rare footage that was shown was the best thing about the documentary. Some of the footage I have never seen before and the Destiny and Triumph tour concert footage was amazing. There has to be a way for us to have one of those tours on a DVD package. The work of Louis Johnson and David Williams can never be forgotten and it was a good thing that they were mentioned. 

The amazing clips from the documentary. 

However, that is when the good parts of the documentary ends and the parts of the documentary that I did not like begins. This is the second documentary that Spike did on Michael's work that once again, had some problems. I feel that with all of the work that Michael has done in his life that he deserves to have a documentary done on him that is not only positive (and it was positive) but respectful and factual. It seems like Mr. Lee is not taking this duty that he has towards restoring Michael's legacy seriously. 

John Legend

I do not understand why "singer" John Legend was any where near this documentary. I do not know who decided that he can be in this film after the horrible things that he stated about Michael after he died. He stated the following, 

"I wonder what young black kids are thinking now as we glorify MJ who went through such lengths to change his complexion and have white kids interesting to think about in the context of the comments about the complexion of the kids at the pool."


For some reason, John Branca and Spike Lee thought it was important and reasonable to bring that ignorant fool who thinks he know what he was talking about to tell people about a man that he had no respect for. When John "Legend" stated this mess, Michael was not even dead for a whole month. Out of all of the people that Branca and Lee can get to talk about Michael like Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild, they decided to bring in that terrible man. Unacceptable. 

Michael with John Branca and Little Richard in 1987 and Freddie DeMann with his wife.

Speaking of John Branca, I do not know why exactly does John Branca need to be in every music documentary Spike Lee does on Michael (Yes, I do know that Branca is the executive producer of the documentary but still.). Branca was a music lawyer for Michael so he practically was behind the scenes. If he had to be on this then so can Freddie DeMann, you know the manager that Michael hired in 1980 when he got rid of his father, Joe. Yes, him. We forgot all about him but you know who did not? His daughter, Pilar, who had to come on the comments section on deadline.com article about the documentary to post her disgust. Let's read what she stated, 

"My father managed Michael and worked with him for 15 years and was directly involved with Off the Wall. I am interested to see who they interview for the doc. They did not interview my father."


Why was her father not interviewed for this documentary but John Branca, who Michael fired many times, was? How can you do a documentary about an album as groundbreaking as Off The Wall and not interview Freddie DeMann? Spike Lee is not doing thorough research on Michael and his career. 

Michael with his mother, Katherine, brother Tito and ex-sister in law, Delores, 1981.

Speaking of that, there was a part in the documentary where Katherine was talking about Michael and a picture was shown of her holding a baby. That was made to indicate that Katherine was holding a newborn Michael. That picture was taken in the 1970s and it was of Katherine holding one of her grandchildren. I have never seen a picture of Katherine holding Michael when he was a newborn. Once again, Mr. Lee is not taking the time to check out these things and instead he allows this to be on an documentary that is focus on giving the viewer factual and correct information about Michael. 

The film was cut short from 120 minutes to 90 minutes and that was unnecessary. 

Spike Lee and the singer The Weeknd.

Spike Lee needs to stop adding singers of this day and age that have no business talking about an album that was before their time. The singer, The Weeknd, was born in 1990, 11 years after the Off The Wall album was released. What can he state about an album and era that he did not experienced? Spike pulled this same stunt when he allow Justin Bieber and Chris Brown be in the Bad 25 documentary when Justin was born in 1994 and cannot related to the 1980s and Chris was born in 1989 and did not experience the 1980s. Why can Mr. Lee get Michael Jackson fans involved? Especially the ones that experienced the Motown through Off The Wall eras and went to the actual concerts. Doesn't their views about that time period be more rewarding than something The Weeknd ever states? Maybe the reason why he was on there was to attract younger people to Michael Jackson and for that I state that young people attract to him every day by watching his short films on youtube or listening to his music thanks to smart people playing his classic albums. The Weeknd is not going to get younger people get into Michael through a documentary. There is no reason for him to be on there. 

Dr. Joe Vogel

I stated it on here that I am not a fan of now Dr. Joseph Vogel because of an issue that I had with him and the various things that he stated about Michael's legacy. Recently, he made a blog post talking about the Michael album and those three songs that did not have Michael's vocals. You can read what he stated here - 


I do not want to dwell on what he stated because at the end of the day, if he had any credibility, he would have never discredited Michael's nephews and daughter who stated otherwise. Remember when Dr. Vogel made a comment comparing one of the fake vocals to the Off The Wall album? 

"the exceptionally ominous strings in the intro, its "Off the Wall"-esque chorus, or its signature Jackson indictment of a media"


Ebony and Right On! magazines that documented Michael's legendary career.

Yet, Spike Lee still puts this man in these documentaries. I guess Chris Cadman or Adrian Grant was not available to contribute on the documentary. Maybe Cynthia Horner, one of the founders of the magazine Right On! or a representative from Ebony and Jet magazines could not be reached for comment. I mean, I am trying to understand why these people were not being featured on the film. Fans who really studied Michael knows how much work both publications put into telling the public about Michael's journey to greatness.

Michael with singer Stephanie Mills in the 1970s. 

In the documentary, it was mentioned that Michael was with a few women like Diana Ross, Stephanie Mills, Tatum O'Neal and Brooke Shields but they did not state that Michael actually dated these women. They did not even state that Stephanie Mills confirmed that she and Michael were a couple but of course, as anything dealing with this side of Michael's, these people who run his Estate will never allow the people to know this side of Michael. 

Michael with Quincy Jones in 1981 and Quincy with his daughter actress Rashida Jones. 

You cannot do a documentary about this album without mentioning Quincy Jones, who was the executive producer of the album. At first, I wanted Quincy to be a part of this because his input is very important to how Michael worked in the studio, video shoots and in the recording sessions. In the documentary, old interviews that Quincy did were included and there might be people thinking, "why isn't Quincy in this documentary?" Honestly, I would rather see old interviews of him speaking about the album than him being in the documentary. After Michael died, Quincy did an interview with the magazine Details that was later posted in a vox.com article weeks ago, in which he stated, 

"It’s ridiculous man! Chemical peels and all of it," he said. "And I don’t understand it. But he obviously didn’t want to be black."


Why should anyone that cares about Michael Jackson and his legacy would remotely allow that old, bitter bastard even be in the documentary? I cannot even begin to tell you how relieved I was, regardless how I feel about the documentary, that Quincy's old ass is not in this film. Sadly, the apple does not fall further from the tree because his daughter, Rashida Jones, told Late Show host James Corden that Michael's beloved monkey, Bubbles, bit her as a child. 

Girl, please. 

It seems like the Jones family, who all at one point, accepted and loved Michael like family, have a sick and twisted way of showing their "love" for him. 

Overall, I would recommend people to watch the documentary because even with the many mistakes that was made, the information, most of it, is correct. However, I do feel that after Spike Lee does the Thriller documentary that he should stop doing Michael Jackson documentaries. I know that, based on the history so far with Mr. Lee's work on Michael, the Thriller documentary will have mistakes and will not get into all of the important details. Heck, I know it would not. I am not sure if Freddie DeMann will be on there, if Theresa Gonsalves will participate considering her claim that Michael wrote "Billie Jean" because of her issues with the father of one of her children.  If Mr. Lee would interview Michael's other family members like his nieces and nephews or if the family of the late Frank DiLeo who was Michael's manager during that time. Will Mr. Lee talk to the directors of the short films for the Thriller album? Will Spike Lee utilized social media to contact fans to participate in the documentary? Only time will tell because I know that when the Thriller documentary is completed and ready to be seen, I will be expecting to see various mistakes. Let's hope that is not the case but I would not put my money or time on it.

Michael looking amazing in 1981. 



Articles - 

"John Legend Brings Up The MJ White Skin & White Kids Issue", rnbdirt.com, July 9th, 2009. http://rnbdirt.com/john-legend-brings-up-the-mj-white-skin-white-kids-issue/14694/

"Regarding the Casico's Tracks", Vogel, Joe. http://www.joevogel.net/articles/regarding-the-cascio-tracks

"Exclusive: The Inside Story Behind Michael Jackson's Controversial New Song and Album",Vogel, Joe. Huffingtonpost.com, Nov. 10, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-vogel/exclusive-the-inside-stor_b_781364.html

"The Whitewashing of Michael Jackson, Explained."Massie, Victoria, M. Vox.com, Feb. 2, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/2/2/10889998/michael-jackson-whitewashing-fiennes

Video -

The music videos of Michael's legendary songs from Off The Wall from the official youtube account of Michael Jackson. 

Rashida Jones' interview discussing Michael's pet monkey Bubble biting her on the Late Show with James Corden from the official youtube account of the Late Show.

Tumblr -

The gifs of clips from the Triumph tour from the documentary came from King of Music tumblr account. 

The gifs of clips from the documentary when Michael talks about working with Quincy Jones from King of Music

Pictures - 

The pictures came from my personal harddrive and a google.com search.

Quote - 

Freddie DeMann's daughter, Pilar DeMann commenting on her father not being in the Off the Wall documentary. Janurary 12, 2016, http://deadline.com/2016/01/michael-jacksons-journey-spike-lee-documentary-showtime-1201681590/