I have been patiently waiting for an opportunity to watch, for no charge, Michael Jackson’s unintentional farewell concert memoir. My tightfistedness was rewarded earlier this week when Netflix posted This is It on their “watch now” menu.
Without even watching This is It, one could imagine the spectacle involved in putting together a Michael Jackson concert. After the introduction, the film moves immediately to the recruitment of primary backup dancers for the king. Imagine a huge crowd outside an arena like you would see on American Idol, except instead of mediocre pop-star wannabes and jokesters, you have assembled the best dancers in the world. Every one of these world-class artists is clamoring for the chance of a lifetime; to support and work closely with the most influential dancer of the 20th century. Of course, the world-class musicians positioned behind the dancers are no surprise.
Every musical number in the “Michael Show” is a production unto itself. In many pop concerts, musical numbers have to be choreographed, wardrobes have to be arranged, and cameras have to be blocked, however this spectacle (like Michael’s life) takes it to a whole new level. There is a scene in the film where they are putting together the “Billy Jean” segment. During the production of this portion Michael’s dancers (as well as acrobats) are performing in front of a Green Screen. They are creating the illusion (which will be displayed during the concert) of thousands of dancers performing the song. Later a full production staff in ghoulish make-up tapes the “Thriller” segment which will later be presented to the concert audience in live 3D. Throw in the obligatory pyrotechnics, performers from Cirque du Soleil, and a production staff of hundreds, and you have a concert spectacular for the ages.
Despite the massive production behind him, its hard to get past the way Michael physically carries himself throughout the film. While he is clearly focused, opinionated and intensely passionate, he seems a step slow. It is as if he is going through the motions but does not seem sharp. The word “gusto” comes to mind, it seems he is performing with no “gusto”. Juxtaposed with the precision of the youthful backup dancers, 50-year-old Michael’s slowed speed becomes even more evident. I won’t speculate whether this slowing is a result of us only getting to see practice run-throughs of an aging pop-star or rather a result of his alleged use of hospital grade anesthetics. Besides, the reason is unimportant. What does matter, however, is that all the above details unintentionally distract the viewer from the most striking feature of the film.
As rehearsals moved coolly though genres, eras, and recognizable pop hits, an unexpected element became unavoidable. First, buried under hundreds of lights, pyrotechnics, and production then later as if nothing else was there, we hear Michael’s voice. Pristine with talent and not weathered by age, Michael’s voice is as clean as it ever was. The beauty and fluency in Michael’s voice makes me believe that when discussing Michael’s life, we have been talking about all the wrong things.
Now, I am the first to criticize the way Michael lived his life, and am equipped with theories of closeted homosexuality and child abuse. However, I was genuinely shocked, shaken and even moved by the quality of the King’s voice. This film, above all, made me realize the artistic loss the music community suffered when Michael died. Throughout This is It, Michael’s intensity, passion and talent shine though the persona and spectacle for which defined the last 10 years of his life. In the end, I felt regretful that this concert was never actually performed in front of an audience. It would have served as a simple (although not complete) cleansing of his image, a reminder of what made him famous; a reminder of what made him great.
It is strange for me to write an ode to the “King of Pop”, given the level of disgust I generally feel towards him. However, while watching This is It I found myself forgetting about all the strange events that defined his persona. For ninety minutes, I forgot about the backyard fantasyland, the dangling baby, and the bleached white skin. Instead, I could only hear Michael’s voice. I could only watch in awe as he ran through 15 number-one hits of which I knew every word. While we might never be able to completely understand or explain his mysterious behavior, one thing is for certain: MJ was one of the all time great pop-stars, pumping out hits for decades. In a time when the pop-music landscape looks drab, we have to remember a time when there was artistry to pop-music. For this, he will be missed.
Peace and Love, Peace and Love,
East Coast Gross
East Coast Gross can be reached at ECG@GDPmagazine.com