This is it, here I stand / I’m the light of the world, I feel grand / Got this love, I can feel / And I know, yes for sure, it is real — Michael Jackson, “This Is It”
The tears didn’t come until the very end.
For my friends and me as well as countless fans around the world, This Is It is a bittersweet movie to watch; we were the lucky ones who had scored tickets to what was going to be his last series of live concerts, his greatly anticipated comeback, and many (including myself) were supposed to have gone and come back to London by now to see Michael Jackson in concert.
Instead, we had to make do (sorry, Kenny Ortega) with a movie chronicling the rehearsals for This Is It. It doesn’t really bode well for a fan base still reeling from the shock of his passing, does it?
The pressure of pleasing Michael’s family as well as the fans, on top of living up to Michael Jackson’s renowned professionalism and perfectionism, makes it all the more amazing that Kenny Ortega first chose to rise to the challenge of working with Michael Jackson in the first place on his comeback concert, but also, since his passing, that he chose to organise the memorial as well as produce this movie. For as no memorial could possibly sum up the grief of millions of fans around the world, no movie could possibly share the full extent of the brilliance that was Michael Jackson working on translating his artistic vision into an on-stage reality.
But despite all this, the movie was – what’s the word I used over a hundred times during those 111 minutes? Oh yeah – it was AWESOME.
Through Kenny Ortega’s gift to the fans, Michael Jackson might have pushed another boundary after his passing. Because This Is It is the movie you would want to see of all your favourite artists and bands: the way the show came together; the vision; how it comes together, the various contributors; and the first sketches of the final show. It’s an intriguing, inspiring portrait of an artist at work as he develops the concepts behind his show, brings them to life and rehearses them, slowly coming up with the final product.
Whatever has been said about him, I think it can easily be seen throughout the movie that Michael Jackson had most certainly not lost his artistic Midas touch. There can be no doubt that the concert was going to be amazing. And while some viewers might complain about the lack of polish and glitter, to them I kindly remind that this movie chronicles the development and rehearsal for the show, not the final product. What did you expect, for it to look like the concert we missed out on? Then don’t go see it, for you are only going to be disappointed.
I was slightly worried about two things that almost kept me from seeing this movie.
On the one hand, I wondered from the beginning if this movie was in itself an insult to Michael Jackson’s memory by being a mere cash-grabbing opportunity by a company intent on making the most money possible after losing what could have been its most profitable run of concerts in recent history. For between the 50 sold out concerts, and the massive number of memorabilia items that were most probably going to be sold, AEG Live did lose out on a lot of money. And, in today’s consumerist, capitalist society, nothing is sacred any more if it can make a buck – even the passing of an icon such as Michael Jackson.
I still don’t know if it is merely a cash-grabbing scheme; however, even if it is, it was worth every penny I spent to watch it. Any Michael Jackson would love to see this intimate side of him, the genius at work in a less than polished way. I don’t think any one of us has ever seen a performance by him that was anything other than perfect (pending the occasional open pant zipper incident), and it’s kind of nice to see a more human and imperfect side of him as he only goes through some of the moves and songs during rehearsal.
I actually even want to see it a second time. The first time was awesome; I’m hoping that the initial OMG will have faded enough for me to really listen to Michael Jackson explaining what he wants so that, through the less than polished rehearsals, I can catch a more refined glimpse of what he had been preparing for us, his fans.
My second concern was that the movie’s tone would be defensive, facing the countless years of accusations and mistreatment with a metaphorical slap in the face, taunting the world with images of a broken Michael Jackson, still not fully recovered from years of abuse by the media, struggling to fully reclaim his throne as King of Pop.
Thankfully, other than an almost painful gauntness, there is no sign of anything other than the caring, soft-spoken genius Michael Jackson was. And, as any fan would know, this gauntness is typical of any tour Michael Jackson prepared for and went on; for he went through such a great deal of pressure that he himself admitted in countless interviews that he would barely eat in the weeks preceding and during the concert run. There is no sign of the media backlash that dogged his every step in the second half of his long career. It’s a reminder that, despite it, Michael Jackson still had an artistic talent matched by none other, and that he still had it – that mysterious je ne sais quoi that made his creations magical.
And, in all honesty, whatever we are offered, we will always be left thirsting for more. It is, after all, a movie about Michael Jackson. There are many things that could have been done for the fans, and one of them was this. I don’t think we will ever get tired of watching Michael Jackson-related material, and I think that we could even watch the whole 800 hours and still be left wanting more.
The movie isn’t about his passing; it isn’t about the sadness, the grief – it’s about the magic, the talent, the one place where fans knew him best: the stage.
We see for ourselves the Michael Jackson many who have worked closely with him talk about: the strict, demanding, yet always soft-spoken and kind artist who knows what he wants and works extremely hard to transform it into reality. We see the reaction of those who work with him; we see obvious signs of strain and stress and yet, surprisingly enough, no voice-raising nor any prima donna attitude. Rather we see a hands-on approach to the creation of the show which demonstrates how important this project was to him. Michael Jackson once said: “I’m never pleased with anything, I’m a perfectionist, it’s part of who I am.” This side of him is all over the movie.
After having followed Michael Jackson most of my life, having watched/read numerous interviews he gave and having heard how he spoke of life and how much he loved his fans, I have the impression that this is really what he would have wanted to share with his fans. Kenny Ortega really delivered a great movie.
This movie is not a definitive This Is It concert movie, nor is it an insightful backstage look, nor it is a chronicle of the grief following Michael Jackson’s passing. Rather it is a raw portrait of an extremely talented artist at work, one that will leave us wondering and what could have been had he not passed away at such a relatively young age.
If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with. — Michael Jackson
If current sales are a demonstration of the love that fans have for him, then he must be very happy right now. After all, This Is It broke into MovieTicket.com’s list of the top 25 advance ticket sellers of all time (and the only documentary on that list) and then, released on October 28, proceeded to make a little over $20 million on opening night.
Rest in peace, Michael; you will be missed.
First published here on Blogcritics.