Michael Jackson is my generation’s Elvis Presley. We grew up with his music, and for many of us, his songs are the soundtrack of the 80’s. I remember in grade 6 when Ms. Hutchinson gathered us all on the 2nd floor to watch the brand new Michael Jackson video for Thriller, and how it made me realize that you could make a movie in 8 minutes.
Much like Presley, Jackson was not known for his performances in the end, but rather the circus that surrounded him. He became a bad punchline to an unfunny joke. Unlike Presley ugly allegations surrounded Jackson and rumours of inappropriate conduct with minors.
The last decade of his life far outshone the first four decades, his death (ironically of drug abuse much like Presley’s) came as both a shock, and to no real surprise. We had seen him literally fall apart before our eyes for years.
Still, Michael Jackson left a legacy of music that can’t be overlooked. He’s the most important pop figure of the last 30 years (with only Madonna arguably being in his stratosphere), and this film is a chronicle of the preparations for his final European tour.
The film starts out silently with a black screen and white text telling us that this footage we are about to see was recorded for Michael’s own personal library, and that it details the rehersals from March 2009-June 2009. Next is some emotional testimony from many of Michael’s dancers for the impending tour, and how much it means to them, and with that we’re told…this is it.
This is a “Making of/Concert film”, and just that. It’s a rare peek into the creative process of putting on a multi-million dollar stage show. We see the casting process, and get to watch some of the very early rehearsals. We get brief, but rare glimpses of the mad genius of Michael Jackson. He’s a man who wants perfection, but specifically he wants his performers to play the music not as it’s on the albums…but as the audience expects to hear it in their minds. His direction is maddeningly vague sometimes such as “let it sizzle, I need more sizzle”, but then incredibly precise as he vocalizes the exact notes that he wants the pianos to hit.
He has specific musical cues, and he wants lighting to be timed to exact moves. Having played roles on the technical side of the house in the past I can imagine the frustration that grips and lighting technicians must have felt dealing with him, but I would wager they all realized they were part of something pretty special.
There were a few pretty funny temper tantrums by MJ, but he always prefaced them (no matter how irritated his voice sounded), with “I mean this in love, this is all love.”, however again, these moments which served to humanize him, were few and far between.
The production values on this show were extraordinary, and a bunch of special videos were shot just for it including an amazing new video sequence for Thriller that would have been in 3D. I was particularly awed by this footage as it was the crispest, most lifelike film footage I’ve ever seen (seeing the flick on a digital screen helped no doubt, but it was spectacular).
I was pretty amazed by how well Michael Jackson moved. This was a man who was on tremendous amounts of painkillers, and who by initial reports was tiny and frail. He didn’t look that way on screen, in fact he moved like a man in his 30’s, and looked pretty healthy for someone who early reports had pegged at underweight and very frail. The dude who belted out Smooth Criminal in this film looked neither frail, nor underweight.
The movie was ultimately about the performances, and I have to say, this actually made me wish I had seen a Michael Jackson concert. He owned the stage, and his music was infectious. I moved past my Michael Jackson phase sometime late in grade school, but there were a lot of times where I caught myself quietly singing along, or popping and locking in my seat.
I defy anyone alive to see Michael Jackson’s performance of Billie Jean in this flick and not at least tap your feet to the beat.
This was a pretty cool movie, and the forced scarcity of the “2 week limited engagement” that the producers put on it made it a must see for Char and I.
I’m sure there will be a 6 DVD collector’s edition in a sequined glove case pushed out in the next couple of weeks in time for the holidays, but This Is It was a pretty great experience to have in a theatre, and I’m glad we saw it that way.