In A New Documentary, Janet Jackson Hide In Plain Sight

During her heyday of more than two decades, Janet Jackson was an astonishingly modern pop superstar—a risk taker with a distinctive voice, a vibrant sense of self-presentation, and an innate understanding of the scale of the labor it took to shake the world. music. He was the embodiment of authority and command, unrivaled in his time and meticulously copied by succeeding generations.

But throughout “Janet Jackson,” a four-hour documentary that premiered on Lifetime and A&E in two nights, the ups and downs of Jackson’s career are often presented as some sort of collateral asset or damage. Her brothers were famous first; Jackson was the brave little sister who came after her. Jackson lost a lucrative sponsorship opportunity with Coca-Cola when his brother Michael, then the most famous pop star on the planet, faced his first sexual misconduct allegations. When a wardrobe malfunction derailed Jackson’s performance at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, it was his career that crashed, not his collaborator rising star Justin Timberlake.

An interesting choice for the first official documentary about one of the most influential musicians of the past few decades. But what makes him even more curious is that Jackson himself (along with his brother and manager Randy) is executive producer. It’s a bait and pass that uses the lure of access and privacy – we’re told, cameras have followed it for five years – as a means of diversion.

“Janet Jackson” is a certified documentary that feels like collecting a YouTube news clip. Jackson is extensively interviewed, but largely provides individual, rarely colored commentary. In some episodes, especially when she’s shown talking to Randy, she’s the one asking questions, especially when the two return to the family’s home in Gary, Ind. At nearly every emotional crossroads, the movie leaves a humming sound effect,”Law and Order” cha-chuck, and commercial segments. This selection makes filled moments melodramatic and melodramatic moments funny.

Among the choices, “Janet Jackson” mostly stars Jackson’s ex-husband René Elizondo Jr. by some outstanding archival footage, carrying a camera with a future versatility in mind, during their time together as romantic and professional partners. Archive. We see Jackson in the studio. Jimmy Jam and Terry LewisWhile practicing the sound of “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814”, she is in a battle of wills with them, the sequel to her second album and career-making “Control.” During the recording of the 1995 single “Scream”, we see Jackson and Michael talking about the lyrics and Michael asking him to touch the sound of the rock hit “Black Cat”. There are sleepy but impressive footage of Jackson’s meeting with Coca-Cola while being offered sponsorship, as well as scenes from the painting from the 1993 movie “Poetic Justice” in which Jackson starred with Tupac Shakur.

As for drama – no drama, this movie insists. Everything is going well. The head of the family, Joe Jackson, is presented as a sign of hard work and discipline, not abuse, with which the success of the children will be impossible. Jackson’s exes – James DeBarge, Elizondo, Jermaine Dupri – have been largely pardoned for their impropriety. Her third husband, Wissam Al Mana (they broke up in 2017) was never named, but their shared son, Eissa, was mentioned and briefly shown. As for the Super Bowl performance that derailed his career, Jackson and Timberlake are very good friends, he says.

Or maybe something else is going on. “She constantly suffers in private and it doesn’t concern any of you,” says longtime stylist Wayne Scot Lucas.

This seems to involve Benjamin Hirsch, the film’s director and peppering Jackson with questions. In several episodes, Hirsch uses the audio of his interrogation to provide a more complete picture of the incomplete answer he received. His questions are kind but direct, with only a shadow of the awkwardness of pushing a famous and famous private person in an uncomfortable direction. While doing research, Jackson is often chauffeured to a place designed to trigger a memory, in the backseat of an SUV; The most vulnerable aspect of these scenes is physical intimacy, an intimacy that shares space, a representation of true shared intimacy.

When the spotlight is left to others, particularly Jackson’s behind-the-scenes collaborators like Lucas and dancer Tina Landon, small sparks of clarity arise. Jam and Lewis (who also serves as music supervisor on the documentary) and his former choreographer, Paula Abdul, are getting a broader appreciation of Jackson’s art. So many other superstars – Whoopi Goldberg, Mariah Carey, Samuel L. Jackson, Barry Bonds (!), Missy Elliott – have teamed up just to infuse Jackson with clichés, a tremendous missed opportunity.

It’s rude to linger on things not covered here, but given that official documentaries can tend to the legend, there’s dangerously little analysis or evaluation of Jackson’s music or videos, only pretensions of their greatness. The only exception is Questlove, who talks about defending himself. Election to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Jackson’s life has been through many traumas, but this movie mostly remembers them oddly and doesn’t argue strongly enough for their triumphs. What’s more, the editing is choppy and the lighting often flamboyant—a tabloid-style production for an artist that deserves the arrogance treatment.

But the clown is coming from inside the house. Even at the peak of pop, Jackson was generally reluctant, and the years of public scandal that tarred him even from afar seemed inclined to do no more than shrug him off and back off.

By that measure, the movie is a success. And sometimes the silence is made real. When Jackson’s mother is asked about Michael’s death, her mother falters and someone off-camera, apparently Jackson, asks if the questioning was too much for her. They show that it is and move on. And as Jackson discusses his father’s death—“I’ve had the opportunity to thank him, thank God”—it’s the rare moment when emotions get the best of him. After the slightest quiver, he builds a wall: “Okay, Ben, that’s enough.” And yet.

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