|'It would be tempting to label the film a failure if the late Michael Jackson, and this period in his career in particular, weren't such a fascinating and entertaining subject'.|
Like many other documentaries of recent years, particularly those focusing upon the music industry it seems, Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown To Off The Wall is perfectly satisfactory without ever threatening to innovate. Spike Lee does little wrong throughout, but also fails to achieve anything to make his documentary stand out in style or execution beyond the opening minutes. With such a recognisable name in the director's chair, it would be tempting to label the film a failure if the late Michael Jackson, and this period in his career in particular, weren't such a fascinating and entertaining subject.
Split approximately into two unequal parts, the first hour or so of Lee's film chronicles exactly what the film's protracted and unambiguous title suggests. Lee assembles an impressive ensemble of talking heads to relate from a variety of angles the journey Jackson made from his beginnings as a child star to releasing his first solo album on Epic Records. Contributors such as Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder and Rodney Jerkins, as well as several of Jackson's brothers and former bandmates, lend the film credibility and make for a genuinely interesting watch. The director also includes a few dud choices however. Despite describing Jackson as his mentor, Kobe Bryant adds remarkably little of interest, and why John Leguizamo turns up to add his thoughts at a few points is anyone's guess. Lee putting himself in front of the camera is also a mistake, although thankfully it happens only once.
Interspersed amongst the interviewees are a wealth of archive clips of Jackson performing with the Jackson 5, The Jacksons and as a solo artist, as well as interview footage with the musician from various points throughout the film's chosen time period. Few of these present a great deal that isn't already known about the star, with the most interesting selection perhaps being an interview with a nineteen-year-old Jackson filmed at Studio 54, focusing on his interest in what the infamous New York nightclub had to offer. What does constantly come through the footage is just how entertaining and vibrant Jackson's back catalogue continues to be, showcasing his extraordinary talent as a singer, dancer and consummate entertainer.
The closing section of Lee's film concentrates on the writing and recording of the Off The Wall album itself. The director tackles the album track by track in order, offering insight into the development of both the well-known singles and less prominent album tracks. A couple of songs - such as the Paul McCartney-penned "Girlfriend" - get remarkably short shrift, however, and it would have helped both this section and the documentary as a whole in feeling a little more rounded had they received a similar level of coverage to other numbers.