Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson ‘Off the Wall’ Doc is Emotional and Entertaining
Brooklyn's BAM Rose Theater was filled seat-to-seat as everyone left "the nine-to-five up on the shelf" with one person in mind -- Michael Jackson. The occasion was a free screening of Spike Lee's latest joint: Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown to Off the Wall. Oftentimes, movie audiences chastise those who are talking throughout the film, but it was clear that reactions would not only be welcomed, but encouraged -- especially with the Brooklyn director himself in attendance.
The documentary highlights Jackson's breakthrough album, 1979s Off the Wall. It was the album that cemented Jackson as an adult solo star outside of The Jacksons; and it proved to be a musically significant album that announces the transition from 70s disco into 80s MTV-driven dance pop.
Before Lee took his rightful place in the center seat of the theater for the screening, he shared some words with the crowd. After asking that everyone turn off their phones, (not just as a common courtesy, but out of respect for Michael), he then played the role of an MC as he gave a shoutout to every area in New York City.
"Anyone from Williamsburg?" he asked as one black woman screamed. "You're not from Williamsburg," he said. "I used to..." she replied as he interjected: "Yeah! You used to -- gentrification!"
Lee also mentioned that while the film premiered worldwide at Sundance last week it "wasn't Brooklyn, New York," and shared that, while he loves all of Michael Jackson's albums, Off the Wall is his favorite.
Clearly the love for Michael is strong; Lee, the famed New York Knicks fan, even gave a shoutout to another notable star in attendance: NBA Golden State Warrior, Klay Thompson, who Lee also sat next to.
The documentary itself opened to cheers as Michael Jackson's iconic glittery socks and famous footwork filled the screen. And as MJ's hits played, the crowd was immediately moved to dance, shout and shake their bodies down to the ground. As the distinct opening notes of the classic "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" began playing, with Michael uttering his famously hushed spoken "The force--it has a lot of power" intro, the entire crowd shouted that song's exuberant "Wooo!" in unison.
Several interviews with celebs Pharrell and The Weeknd showed Michael Jackson's influence musically, but it those outside of music that showed the scope of the King of Pop's reach. Kobe Bryant's focus and work ethic and Misty Copeland's spins and precision were cited as being born of watching Michael Jackson.
The 93-minute documentary also took the time to chronicle MJ's life including him landing the role of the Scarecrow in the 1978 film The Wiz! and meeting Quincy Jones. It also broke down each song on Off the Wall -- although less popular songs like "Girlfriend" and "It's the Falling in Love" notably got shortened time in the film.
But Lee makes up for it in one of the greatest moments of the documentary. He masterfully intercuts Eddie Murphy's famous Delirious bit mocking MJ's "She's Out of My Life" with the King of Pop's actual performance in a way that was alternately hilarious and touching. The audience also got to see rare footage and photos including baby Michael in his mother's arms and him tap-dancing alongside the famed Nicholas Brothers.
It's electric, empowering and personal. As one woman in the crowd yelled, "You killed it, Spike!"
Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown to Off the Wall premieres on Showtime on Friday (Feb. 5). It will also be available for purchase along with the famed album on Feb. 26. In the meantime we'll be re-listening to Off the Wall (you can join us by listening here.)
Check out the trailer below.