The title of Spike Lee’s “Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall,” an exhilarating new documentary premiering Friday on Showtime, could not be any plainer or more accurate. It’s the story of how a child prodigy and pre-teen idol became a world-conquering solo artist, from the Jackson 5, to the Jacksons, to the man who was Michael.
Every artist is at least two people, intertwined yet also separate — the person who makes the art and the person who does everything else. It’s impossible not to confuse them, and we like to read the life in the art, just as we tend to let the art glorify the life; but sometimes the art is made in spite of the life, or made without regard to it.
Michael Jackson may have been a mixed-up kid who became a mixed-up adult, but he was also an artist who knew his stuff, who thought a lot about craft, asked questions, made plans.