A lot has been said about Michael Jackson's THIS IS IT: Father of the year Joe Jackson claims that body doubles were used, his sister LaToya says that Michael would be horrified by the film's release; as a perfectionist, he wouldn't want fans to see him not giving his all, even in a rehearsal. Expectations were high for fans, especially for those who were supposed to see the concert, and many critics were skeptical. After all, Jackson needed this money. These dates were a way to help with his monstrous debt. And since he is one of the most beloved performers of all time, it would be easy, and not surprising at all, for him to simply phone in 50 shows and leave at least a few people satisfied, just happy to catch a glimpse of his former glory.
Well, after seeing the premiering 11:55pm show in Brooklyn last night with my brother, I can tell you this: The King of Pop still had a little fight left in him.
To be honest, I bought these tickets the day they were released a month ago in the hopes that the film would shed some subversive light on his health pre-death. Maybe unintentionally show Michael in a Demerol induced haze, stumbling through rehearsals. Perhaps prove to the world that he was in absolutely no condition to fulfill those 50 planned dates at the O2 arena in London anyway. I am not particularly proud of my initial interest in the documentary, but like most people, I am not completely immune to scandal consciously and unconsciously forming my opinions of someone I have never even met. I was looking for sensationalism. I will admit that. I was looking for a few bittersweet laughs at a fallen legend's expense. I will admit that too. But I got the complete opposite. And I am impressed.
This wasn't funny. Or fucked up. It wasn't even sad, in a pathetic sense or otherwise. Parts of it dripped with melodrama, but that was no surprise, his tastes often lead to that. Really, it was just fascinating. It basically was a run through of the concert that never was, about almost 2 hours of him just planning, singing, dancing and rehearsing his way through the elaborate set. There were explosions, a Swarovski embellished "Billie Jean" costume partially developed by scientists in the Netherlands, that was so bright you needed sunglasses to see it up close (not joking), aerialists hanging from chandeliers, the world's luckiest dancers (one of the best scenes was footage from the auditions held for back up dancers, all of them crying with joy at the prospect of dancing not with, but for the King), amazing musicianship (his female guitarist was particularly excellent, and the band was fantastic) and tons of insane footage that was meant to be projected over the stage for pretty much each song, basically serving as mini music videos, even though the majority of said songs already have pretty amazing music videos to begin with (the "Thriller" one, although filled with great makeup, costumes and special effects, was no match for John Landis' original and the video footage for "Earth Song" had me checking the time a lot).
It started with "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and ended with "Man in the Mirror," and in between there was a Jackson 5 medley (complete with an exact replica of The Jackson 5 Show set, which was my favorite part), a reinterpretation of Gilda set to "Smooth Criminal" which via green screen had Jackson spliced into the night club setting with Rita Hayworth, a Chicago-esque performance of "The Way You Make Me Feel," and the whole time, Michael's immaculate attention to detail. Whether he was schooling (soft spokenly and politely of course) his musical director for not playing the EXACT key used on the original "The Way You Make Me Feel" record for the intro of the song, chastising his band for not letting the bass "simmer" enough, or stopping a number because the mix sounded like a "fist was being pushed through" his ear, he was completely at the helm. His voice, is still phenomenal, even if he wasn't going full throttle on each song (although he did a lot and during his duet with back up singer Judith on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" he got carried away in the moment and really let loose, quite beautifully, and then told her teasingly it was "OK for you to do that, but I need to conserve MY voice").
Joe Jackson, once again, can die in a fire; those were 110% Jackson's moves, start to finish. He didn't miss a beat, he just moved a few seconds slower than normal, partially because it was rehearsal and a lot of sound check stuff, and of course partially due to health, but nevertheless: he not only kept up with his lithe dancers, he led them. This was no walk through. He jumped around, threw himself on the ground, crotch grabbed, air humped, moonwalked, "Thrillered," Jackson 5 "rolled" (you know, the classic hand/arm roll the boys did all in a line with the two-step) and maintained great measure in his singing the whole time. He made perfect sense every time he spoke, even if he used ridiculous metaphors and passively aggressively told everyone when they messed up that he was correcting them with "L-O-V-E" and even though he seemed exhausted, was shockingly alert.
I have always said that Michael, even as a child, looked the most comfortable while singing and dancing. All other times, he seemed uncomfortable in his later giant and skeletal frame, nervously waving, shyly smiling. This film solidified that. His element, is performing. Watching him lead rehearsals was like watching someone come back to life. I wasn't even paying attention to his looks; they didn't matter. His hair, his skin, his nose, none of those heavily criticized things were an issue. I mean, I am no fool. I know they showed the best days of rehearsals. I know things were edited, heavily. I know he wasn't always that lucid. But I also know what I saw and I know that I would have loved to see the final outcome. There was no scandal. No gossip. No circus show (other than the one on stage). No law suits. Just a legend who quietly was building his swan song, proving that even though his records weren't what they once were, his natural gift for entertaining, immaculately and joyously, had never left.