Tuesday, November 03, 2009

505 - This Is It review



“This Is It” is a concert documentary about Michael Jackson without the concert. Assembled from rehearsal footage from his London comeback concert that never was, it doubles as both an examination of Jackson at work and a look at what could have been, at least if you were European or had the bread to make it out to the UK.

Those looking for any insight into Jackson’s personal life need not apply. Perhaps this is for the best. People vigorously debate whether or not he molested children, but whatever the truth was, it doesn’t change that the man (d)evolved into a ghastly mutant, a moon-walking freak show whose bizarre and off-putting habits are far too numerous for me to list in the paper’s allocated space.

Here we see a side of Jackson different from the one that made for such macabre viewing these past 20 years. This Michael Jackson is strictly the artist, a good singer and amazing performer, the King of Pop who inspired feverish admiration from countless fans. Reports shortly after his death were insistent that Jackson was a train wreck as he rehearsed, weak and exhausted, broken down.

If so, director Kenny Ortega (who was also directing the show) hides it well. This rehearsal footage shows Jackson as energetic and alert, a canny voice and self-critic when crafting his concert. Onstage with dancers half his age, Jackson looks unscathed by time and drug addiction, able to keep pace and enthusiastically offer instruction on exactly how he wants the show to go.

But the rehearsals aren’t the finals, and much is in progress. Jackson usually wears casual clothing (for him, anyway), and often the songs are peppered with his adjustments. The show is rife with elaborate effects, such as when Jackson is put into an old movie to have a gun battle with Humphrey Bogart. While I’m not an expert on concerts (I’ve been to five), this looks to have been an especially elaborate and dazzling affair, at least when completed. Many of the songs are lavishly decorated with effects and cool visual concepts, but as the show goes on, an increasing number are essentially just Jackson singing on a dimly lit stage.

“This Is It” is ultimately destined to become an indispensable piece to serious Jackson fans. He looks good in his last work, and that image is bolstered by the idolatry of countless reverent crew interviews, where we’re assured that Jackson is pretty much the greatest man to ever live. That the interviewees seem so sincere speaks volumes about the man’s impact and meaning to others, and this film is something that the fans can fondly remember him by, even as many more difficult questions remain unadressed.


3 out of 5

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