Bad (Martin Scorsese, 1987)

“But they say the skys the limit/And to me thats really true/And my friends you have seen nothin/Just wait til I get through . . .”

This is a really serious video. Personally, my lack of knowledge when I was younger led me to believe that the kids dancing in Moonwalker to Bad was in fact the video to Bad. Of course, its not. So this is the final music-video analysis on the blog ‘in memory’ of Michael Jackson. We had David Fincher and Spike Lee. We could have had John ‘Boyz in the Hood‘ Singleton’s Remember The Time, or John ‘American Werewolf in…‘ Landis Thriller or even the short introduction to the Dangerous film directed by David ‘Twin Peaks‘ Lynch. I am sure we could go back to these if we get a chance. Nevertheless, Bad has a full version of the video spanning 14 minutes and is directed by Martin Scorsese Pre-Goodfellas (he must have been discussing it though with Nic Pillegi at this point) but Post-Mean Streets, Raging Bull and his most recent film at this point was The Color of Money so he was hardly an unknown or director-in-need-of-attention. He was well established and, to top if off, for the writer of the music video (obviously not the song itself – that was Michael Jackson, but for the script that precedes the video) was no other than the writer of Sea of Love Richard Price. Price also managed to write many episodes alongside a man called David Simon recently, in a TV series called The Wire. Thats Sarcasm. I am a huge Wire fan.

What I reckon …

You know Scorsese was hardly going to be able to bring the amount of depth and meaning to a Michael Jackson music video as he does in his own films – so you are not going to get any religious symbolism and Catholic iconography here – but you do get a little masculine-identity issues and some technicial correlations that could be discussed. First and foremost the sequence the precedes and follows is shot in black and white, similar to Raging Bull, I assume – if we were going to look ‘deep’ into the video, because the dream-like sequence shot in full colour with the dancing and completely-different ‘bad’ look of Jacksons is not what actually happens. Black and white is the real world, while the colour is – possibly mentally – what Jackson wants to express but until the last act, does not manage to explain.

Its an incredibly dark video too – we have references to theft, vandalism, drug dealing – and taking – and the constant problem of breaking free from poverty. Justified, we get no idea as to how ‘Darryl’ (Jackson) broke free from the ‘dodgy’ end of NYC, simply that his mother (Roberta Flack interestingly enough) clearly works exceptionally hard to support him (so she is not home when he gets back for the summer) and that he acknowledges this. He has begun to appreciate his life. He’s not racist towards his classmates in the private school he attends, while they clearly are not racist towards him (then again, his skin by this point was so bleached maybe this is a difficult issue to discuss when talking about race and MJ…). They are proud of him, and accept his friendship – as we see on the train, while the shifty guy on the train who appears to be someone to fear, in fact only asks him about his pride – something that, I assume, can be detroyed in any area of society and, yet both agree in the sentiment: “Be the man”. The question is, what is it to ‘be the man’?

Its so upsetting to imagine how only a year – possibly within a year – after this was made, Jackson makes Moonwalker. Such a shame. Nevertheless, its not long before we meet friends of Darryl who clearly – without stating it directly – has issues about Darryls circumstances. He’s in private education – there is no indication these men have even gone to school (“no school tomorrow? ha ha ha”) and so you can see the conflict. Darryl is more intelligent, he has morals – he has a caring family who will do whatever they can to get him out of poverty – while his friends, including a young Wesley Snipes, clearly have very little of anything. They refer to him as ‘joe-college’, making sexual references, mocking his school friends and manipulating him when he makes any comment that implies his intelligence. You can feel how awkward it is. This is when it gets even more sinister as we see a drug deal – the four guys attempt to threaten the dealer who carries his own protection. We pan across their faces and Darryl despises what he is doing – but we see the other guys expressions too. While Darryl is out of his element, they are clearly in their element.

In leads to the obvious confrontation – Snipes reacts. All his friends turn on him – the pressure is physically and emotionally claustrophobic as the guys grab and challenge him, knocking down everything he and his family have worked for: “Are you bad? hm? or is that what they teach you up in that little sissy school of yours? How to forget who your friends are?”. Darryl knows them, he cares – and he caves. Building himself up for one last ‘bad’ act. He plans to mug a civilian – but as soon as he see’s that the civilian doesnt understand him at all, that this man is completely innocent, alarm bells ring. This whole sequence reminds me of The Godfather the pressure mounting parrallel with the train sounds getting louder – except instead of Michael Corleone shooting Solozzo, Darryl can’t do it letting the man go. Snipes and co. get angry – Darryl tells him his thoughts: “If I ain’t bad, you ain’t nothin’ – you ain’t nothin!”

The music video itself is what it is – flawless dancing and choreography, dancers from a diverse background representing the range of cultures that are affected by poverty and, inevitably, crime. It is interesting to note that, as soon as this finishes, Snipes and Co. decide to back down on Darryl and as the camera pans back, he is alone again in his usual clothes. Clearly, Snipes’ gang don’t change their ways themselves – there is no indication that they even agree with Darryl as they walk away. Darryl is just on his own and they respect him for taking the opportunity he was given – fact is, Snipes’ gang have not been given that opportunity and they clearly cannot stay friends with Darryl, hence their decision to walk away. Darryl is not ‘one of them’ anymore.

It is great that such dark themes are brought to the forefront, Jackson never shy’s away from these society and worldwide issues, utilising his fame and influence to highlight them to the mass market. So many people claim MJ as inspirational – and people in horrendous domestic circumstances state how Jackson specifically is what got them out of crime and depression – seriously this is true. I would not be suprised that it was videos like this, like Man in the Mirror, like Stranger in Moscow and other inspirational videos that created such a personal link with fans. As fans we can look at his stories and understand – at a very young age – what opportunity is, what ‘to-dream’ is and how, ultimately, it is down to us (and not down to our parents or our circumstances) to dictate what to achieve.

Interesting info – If you listen to the lyric of the song, you can imagine it as a duet – apparently that was the original intention, whereby Jackson was to duet with Prince! How would that have sounded?

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