“A little more booty”
It’s hard to believe that Michael Jackson passed away just four months ago. I don’t say that because I miss the guy—honestly, he hadn’t been in my consciousness since all the child molestation hoopla made him more a joke that talent—but because the footage shot of rehearsals for what was to be his final curtain call tour has already been spliced together into a tribute documentary. Not to say that This Is It is a complete “cashing in” on his death, but one can’t look at it without a slight taint in that respect. For die-hard fans, however, I think the film will succeed 100%. All I had to do was turn to my right and see a middle-aged woman clapping and singing to every song in order to come to that conclusion. As for someone like me, someone who appreciates the music immensely, (especially the older catalog), and is interested in the process and amount of work that goes into a concert extravaganza like Jackson was going to give, it also doesn’t disappoint.
Everyone wants to see the man that was Michael Jackson. The American public went crazy whenever he agreed to do an interview on television, either from the need to hear him talk or morbid curiosity. But all those appearances were in some regards staged or overly saturated by the media, showing more of the myth than the man himself. What makes Kenny Ortega’s film better than all that is the fact we are seeing Jackson as he didn’t want the public to see him, as the artist he was. Ortega was the director of the tour and had been working very closely with Jackson up until his death. It was, therefore, only fitting that he should be the one to piece this movie together, having been there firsthand and knowing what should be shown to get an idea of the professionalism exuded by the King of Pop. Just listening to Michael talk, or seeing his appearance behind stage shows that maybe the falsetto and extreme spaced-out feel were only an act for the public, to add to his mystique. Sure his voice is a bit higher than most and yes his demeanor is obscenely kind and generous, saying ‘God Bless You’ every time someone does as he asks, but this guy was coherent, sharp, and very knowledgeable of his own music and the craft itself.
Besides an extensive closet filled with gold/silver shiny pants and a woman’s jacket with pointy shoulders—very weird to look at—the Jackson shown at work is just like any other musical artist. He is sitting at the tryouts, he is choreographing his moves during sound checks, he is telling the instrumentalists when to let the note simmer, when to not rush the meter change, and when to exaggerate a note and go crazy. This is a family activity, working with people he has before and newcomers that grew up becoming dancers or musicians because of this man. The opening of the film shows those who made the show giving testimonials and crying about the opportunity to work with their idol. It is all quite surreal, especially for someone like me that never could buy into the whole celebrity freakshow of needing to touch/be near famous people. We all know that side of Jackson, we’ve seen the mass of humanity fainting, crying, and screaming as he announces his tour. What we’ve never seen, and what makes this film worth a glimpse, is Michael creating. He says at the end that no one should be nervous; they are doing something for the people. He wanted to bring his audience into a world they’ve never seen with escapism through sound and visuals. This show looked absolutely killer.
Not only was Jackson in shape and ready to take on the world, he was as sharp and as good as ever. No one can say that this guy was going to die before taking the stage; he was jumping and grooving, and kicking like never before. During a rehearsal for “Beat It” he does his whole routine, stomping on the floor, going to his back to kick up his legs, and to his stomach to stomp some more. When a cue goes wrong, he gets up, says what he wants done differently, and when the musician says ok, we don’t have to do it again, Michael tells Ortega to take it from the first jump and does it all once more. A perfectionist for sure, Jackson put his entire being in this reunion/goodbye tour. He wanted to leave nothing behind or hold anything back. Saving his voice for the real tour, his performances here oftentimes miss words or consist of very soft vocals, but when he sees the dancers off stage watching, clapping, and smiling, sometimes he goes all out and brings the house down. He says afterwards that he can’t do that anymore, that they shouldn’t egg him on like that, but you know he loved every minute of it.
But it isn’t all just Jackson singing and dancing onstage. There is a lot of that, don’t get me wrong, and probably thirty minutes of the two hour runtime could have been deleted as a result, however, what truly fascinated was the down time and the vignette filming. This extravaganza was going to be more than a concert; it was to be an experience. Jackson filmed mini-movies in gangster garb opposite Bogart and Robinson for “Smooth Criminal” and the make-up was brought back for a new “Thriller” intro full of creepy zombies. Here’s the kicker, though … it was shot in 3D. The concertgoers were to have glasses and the zombies were to come straight for you, as well as the bullets and glass during “Criminal”. Jackson spared no expense at all; the This Is It tour would have been an amazing swan song for a guy that did so much for music. This film may not be the true performance—it may overdub some rehearsals so the audience can hear the song—but we see Jackson as one of the hardest workers in the business. Here is the first true look at the man behind the myth; it’s a shame we only see it because of his death, but as a eulogy to his music, it does the job well.
Michael Jackson’s This Is It 6/10 | ★ ★ ½