Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Farewell Performance: Michael Jackson's This Is It Review (Review #23)



THIS IS IT (aka MICHAEL JACKSON'S THIS IS IT)

You can remember Michael Jackson in many ways, depending on when you saw him first. Some remember him as the wildly talented youngster from the Jackson 5, wearing a large purple hat, singing and dancing like nobody's business. Others remember him as the man behind some of the most innovative music videos of all time: lighting the ground with his feet in Billy Jean, a dancing zombie in Thriller, in the subway, telling the world who's Bad. For those who came after his heyday, he is known as "that crazy man who slept with boys and dangled a baby from a hotel balcony". This Is It, the film about his never-to-be comeback concert series, doesn't answer questions about who Jackson was or why he was the way he was. It does remind us of what he had, which was talent in the first order.

The film is a hybrid of documentary and concert film. The documentary part is supplied by interviews with the dancers, band, and technical crew, as they rehearse for a spectacular concert. The concert part comes from Jackson's performances of his songs, where he excelled even when his audience consisted solely of no more than fifty.

It may sound wrong, but I think This Is It looks better here than it would have looked if he had lived to perform the entire show as planned. The concert would have been ostentatious and extravagant, but here, we can concentrate on the music and dancing that Jackson could still perform at age 50. We soon forget that this footage was of rehearsal, not because the quality of the film was brilliant, but because he was, at least artistically. Seeing him perform songs such as The Way You Make Me Feel, I Just Can't Stop Loving You, and Beat It, reminds one of the sheer talent Jackson had.

I was pleased to hear one of my personal favorites, Smooth Criminal, and in this particular number he & director Kenny Ortega had planned an amazing number that had Jackson be in the audience of Rita Hayworth's Put the Blame on Mame number from Gilda.

This Is It might not have been the way Michael Jackson would have wanted to be seen. None of this was intended to be for the public's view. However, that ironically ends up being one of its benefits: here we have Jackson, the singer, the dancer, stripped from all the weirdness and lunacy and tragedy that were as much part of his life as his enourmous talent. We can judge the man, not on his eccentricities, but on his musical legacy.

Is it exploitive? I don't think so. The people behind the camera were put in an extremely difficult position after Jackson's death, and they did the best they could under the circumstances. Director Ortega and company should be congratulated for being able to make a great musical experience out of behind-the-scenes footage, and the film is quite respectful of the man.

Ultimately, This Is It won't change how people perceive Michael Jackson, the man. It might not even change how people perceive Michael Jackson, the artist. However, we can see just how much talent he had, and if we judge him on that, his legacy is secure.

1958-2009

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