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DVD Review: Devotion: An Unauthorized Tribute to Michael Jackson

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In the wake of Michael Jackson's untimely death, greatest hits compilations, DVDs, and the upcoming This Is It documentary are surfacing to capitalize on fans's thirst for material. One of the earliest out of the gate is Devotion: An Unauthorized Tribute to Michael Jackson, a DVD claiming to document Jackson's life story. Unfortunately, the documentary falls short of being a complete guide to his complicated life.

Devotion: An Unauthorized Tribute to Michael Jackson

Taking a decidedly biased view (thus the word "tribute" in the title), Devotion focuses on Jackson's relationship with fans, his charity work, and his vast commercial success. Curiously, the plastic surgery never receives a mention, and the accusations and eventual trial are glossed over. While Jackson's life story presents a challenge to anyone wishing to condense it to two hours, barely discussing the Jackson Five's hard road to Motown also seems a glaring omission.

As is typical with “unauthorized” programs, the documentary contains no original music and little in the way of new interviews. Berry Gordy appears, although he rehashes some of his memorial service speech; Janet Jackson very briefly describes the close relationship she shared with her brother; and Quincy Jones discusses the recording of Thriller, although the BET Awards poster in the background reveals the footage's age: 2008. Thus the interview is not exclusive to the program. More interesting is some of the lesser-known figures in Jackson's life, including his former publicist Susan Blond and photographer Harrison Funk. Blond recounts her years working for Jackson, fondly recalling the mania surrounding Thriller. Funk remembers taking photos of Jackson at Neverland Ranch, seemingly charmed by his childlike nature.

Hardcore fans will quibble with various aspects—for example, while the narrator touts Off the Wall's success, footage of fans mobbing Jackson plays, clearly from the Thriller era. Oddly, when songwriter and frequent collaborator Rod Temperton's name is mentioned, Stevie Wonder's face appears. Video from the Bad era accompanies the Thriller section, and much is made of Jackson meeting President H. W. Bush (though his 1984 visit with President Reagan remains more noteworthy). Since the documentary's producers failed to obtain footage of the original Motown 25 “Billie Jean” performance, the viewer is treated to a very bad imitator's version of the moonwalk. Some of the facts appear blurred—for example, Jackson's 2001 feud with Sony and then-company president Tommy Mottola stemmed from Jackson's unhappiness with the lack of success of his last album, Invincible. Instead, Devotion mostly couches the incident in vague descriptions of him wanting more control over his Sony catalog. Interestingly, the DVD does include the inflammatory remarks Jackson made about Mottola being “mean” and a “racist.”

Devotion includes four extras: brief excerpts from the memorial service, a profile of his charity work, a segment on the media's uneasy relationship with Jackson, and footage solidifying him as a “global phenomenon.” The first bonus features snippets of speeches from Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Brooke Shields, Jermaine Jackson, and daughter Paris Jackson's unforgettable closing comments. The “Charity Work” bonus argues that Jackson became active in charities long before it was fashionable for celebrities to do so. Raising money for AIDS research and his Heal the Kids foundations are among the examples cited.

The “Media” segment best represents the biased nature of Devotion, painting the media as bloodthirsty snakes who enjoyed making up stories about Jackson. While some of that may be true, it paints a simplistic portrait of Jackson's ongoing tension with the press. The narrator chides the media for “biased reporting” and fails to mention how Jackson often tried to manipulate press coverage. In fact, biographers have suggested that Jackson himself planted the infamous hyperbaric chamber and Elephant Man's bones stories.

Finally, the “Global Phenomenon” section shows fans from all over the world, illustrating his massive international following. Amazingly the documentary takes another shot at the press, the narrator stating that “unlike the media, fans kept the faith” during the good and bad times.

While Devotion: An Unauthorized Tribute to Michael Jackson may have good intentions, its mistakes, omissions, and heavily slanted approach will annoy fans. In addition, the documentary reveals no new information (other than a couple of scary health-related incidents) about Jackson's life that even casual fans do not already know. One can only hope that future films will paint a more balanced and accurate portrait of Jackson's complicated legacy.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • jol

    Yeah, the media have the right to be biased for profit, but nobody who attacks them dare show the tiniest bias by not mentioning that 20 years ago he may have planted a completely harmless story.

  • Monica Simonds

    Amen, Jol.

    Mean-spirited comments against MJ by the likes of Diane Dimond, Maureen Orth or Nancy Grace is always hailed as “honest” or “speaking the truth”.

    But, anything which is sympathetic toward MJ is automatically labeled “biased” or “fanatical”.

    Talk about a double standard.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Monica and jol, thank you for commenting. I think some of my remarks may have been misinterpreted, so I’d like to clear it up. I felt this DVD did a disservice to MJ’s legacy by oversimplifying his story, and even including inaccuracies. His legacy is a complicated one, and a fuller picture would better serve him and his fans.