Martin Scorsese's long-form "Bad" video
Fri Jun 26 2009
Michael Jackson filmed his iconic "Bad" video only one subway stop from where I live. (This morning at Hoyt-Schermerhorn's nonoperational "ghost" platform, no one seemed to notice; no flowers had been flung over the tracks.) No expense was spared for this video, the all-important first one from an album that had to be the next Thriller. In 1987 terms, that meant a long-form 18-minute musical drama directed by Martin Scorsese, shot by Raging Bull's Michael Chapman, edited by The Color of Money's Thelma Schoonmaker and scripted, amazingly, by novelist Richard Price.
I'm moved to think that Jackson fantasized about starring in a Scorsese picture—as so many people do. Most of us know the video by its abbreviated form: a four-minute dance-off that still bears the mark of its director, a lover of The Red Shoes and other musicals. (Scorsese even has a jokey "cameo," on a "wanted" poster.) The camera glides in sync with sinuous choreography, pivoting on a dime and beckoning its hero into a high-angle, prideful yell: "I'm bad!"
The video was easy to parody. But if you return to Scorsese's ten-minute, black-and-white prologue, you can see the hugeness of Jackson's celebrity straining for a kind of realness. Daryl (Jackson) travels from his ritzy, suburban private school into Grand Central and then, via subway, to a depressed urban neighborhood, finding a note from his absent mom. His old friends (including Wesley Snipes) first welcome him, then doubt his authenticity. "Back off me, man—stop it!" Jackson yells, through tears. I choose to remember him today as that actor: a dreamer of movie stardom, even though he had so much.