This Is It (2009)

This Is It (2009)

This Is It (2009)

Director: Kenny Ortega
Starring: Michael Jackson

This Is It

This Is It is one of those films that defies logic. As a document of the last months of Michael Jackson’s life, a behind-the-scenes record of rehearsals for the come-back tour that was in part a reluctant exercise designed to save the eccentric mega-star from bankruptcy, and a film that was quickly assembled after the singer’s death in order to cash-in on the controversy of his overdose, media-blitz funeral, and the inquiry into cause and culpability, it should have been a sad disappointment.  In fact, it may be the epitome of the Reality movement in TV and sometimes movies—a tribute to dance unlike anything that has been on screen in years, and a concert-that-never-was film that trumps that genre because of its ultimate humanity, imperfection and lack of overproduction.

Granted, the concert that Jackson was working on would have been spectacular. Directed by  Kenny Ortega, who also assembled this film, this was a greatest-hits affair  where all the elements, the recordings and videos etched into the minds of the fans and everyone else in the world, were re-imagined,  brought to life with new imagery, musical juxtapositioning, and surprises. All the bells and whistles were employed, there were spectacular fireworks created by computer-whiz lighting geniuses, film sequences, for example, where Jackson was superimposed into a 40’s, black-and-white floor-show and cop-and-robbers movie, chased by Humphrey Bogart, and an entrance by Jackson in a huge, mechanical spider for another song.

The film begins with tearful interviews with dancers who were filmed at the point of being selected for the show, and these audition sequences look like “A Chorus Line” times ten. Quick shots of a stage filled with hundreds of the sexiest, most athletic females, ultimately narrowed to two,  and the shirtless Chippendales fantasy of an army of male dancers vying for a handful of back-up parts, could have been a film in itself. As it was, the sequence lasted maybe 30 seconds. The focus of This Is It, is, as it should have been, on Jackson.

The film, using footage designed to be edited into the performance somehow (or maybe used in the DVD)  tracks every song, every dance in the show shown in multiple takes,  as well as vocal rehearsals,  lighting conferences, and meetings of the entire team, with Michael holding hands as one of the circle, not just the center,  one of many whose best work and highest  creativity was brought into the production of this one show. In a year of economic horror stories, this lay-off was also a huge artistic tragedy.

There is no doubt that the man looked thin, that his facial reconstructions and wigs were on the frightening side, and that some of his comments during rehearsal sounded like someone under the influence of too many painkillers. And yet, watching him work-out dance sequences, seeing run-throughs that featured full-on performance and a great choreographic connection with his back-up dancers,  and the sound of his familiar voice,  “saving itself” for the London premiere, which was only weeks away at the time of the filming,  reminds one that although this artist existed on best-selling records and music videos that are etched into the zeitgeist—he was still amazing, complicated and brilliant—in the flesh.  Everyone should see this film in order to digest the magnitude of this lost talent.

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Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."