Too soon? Not soon enough for WW
press deadlines. But here's a review of the Michael Jackson rehearsal documentary:
Michael Jackson's This is It
It's odd to think of Michael Jackson as “underappreciated.” Here's a guy who entered the cultural bloodstream at 8 years old and never left, who's sold more records worldwide than anyone else has or—it's safe to say—ever will, who crowned himself the King of Pop without protest, who is considered by anyone alive between the late '60s and early '90s as the greatest entertainer of the last 30 years, if not of all time. Aside from John Lennon, it's hard to imagine another 20th
century artist more
appreciated in their lifetime. And yet, there are still things for which Jackson doesn't get enough credit. As a singer. As a musician. Hell, even as a performer.
If nothing else, This Is It
—the de facto documentary cobbled together in the wake of Jackson's death on June 25—helps flesh out the image of Michael Jackson as an all-around creative force. It's not the rehearsal footage showing us the giant spectacle he had planned for his 50 scheduled shows at London's O2 Arena that does it, either.
Yes, it would've been huge. And eye-popping. And, at points, garish and overblown. In other words, it's what we would have expected from him. Sure, at age 50 and in questionable health, there were doubts he could pull off something on par with his past concert extravaganzas, and it is a bit of surprise to see him still moving so fluidly and singing so wonderfully, especially after learning about the daily cocktail of drugs he was supposedly consuming in his final days. But, deep down, none of us would have bet against him. This is somebody who probably spent as much time in his half-century on the planet dancing as he did walking. He lived his entire life on stage. Zonked out on painkillers or not, we knew he'd deliver.
But it's the small moments, captured between the run-throughs and videotaped vignettes, that reveal a side of Jackson not often seen—that of the gentle taskmaster. Kenny Ortega is listed as the director of the This Is It
tour and film, but it's clear within the opening minutes, when Jackson stops “Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'” to instruct his backing band to make it funkier, who is actually in charge. Jackson wasn't an instrumentalist but he was certainly a musician, and he knew precisely how he wanted the audience to experience his music. He doesn't speak in musical terms, communicating more as a dancer—miming how he wants stuff played, telling his keyboardist to “let it simmer”—and ending each correction with a “God bless you” or “It's all about love.” It is fascinating to watch one of pop's legendary perfectionists molding imperfection: Two minutes of anyone else complaining about his in-ear monitor would be boring and trivial; to see Michael Jackson get in a minor huff over it is revelatory.
There are not enough of those little moments in This Is It.
It's understandable why there aren't more: The movie
exists—in theory, anyway—to let fans see Jackson perform one last time. To include more scenes of him working out minutiae with the crew would bog it down for most people.
But the problem is these are, by design, half-performances. Jackson says more than once that he is holding back to preserve his body and voice for the actual concerts. Obviously, the full scope of the show never materializes outside of a few computer animated simulations. There are no dress rehearsals, although this does give us a look at what Jackson considered “casual wear” (i.e. a gold lame jacket with pants the color of orange sherbet). Sometimes, the film comes close to capturing how electric it could have been live, such as when, during “Billie Jean,” the music drops out and Jackson launches into a classic solo routine—complete with crotch-grabbing—to the genuine giddiness of his backup dancers. At other points, we see where Jackson's penchant for grand gestures would have lapsed into overwrought ridiculousness (“Earth Song” was to end with him being threatened by a giant prop bulldozer). It's all a great tease, but it can only be a tease. PG.
MATTHEW SINGER. Opened Wednesday at Broadway Metro 4 Theatres, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, Cinetopia, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, St. Johns Twin Cinemas and Pub, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.