Setting the record straight - Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’ – Captivating

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Setting the record straight - Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’ – Captivating

Post by Grace on Tue Nov 10, 2009 2:47 pm

The world turns and opens her arms for MJ but doesn't yet fully understand:

By Tri-State Defender Newsroom |
Arts & Leisure

Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’ – Captivating

by Dwight Brown
NNPA News Service

Jackson’s life far too often overshadowed his talent. But as you watch
“This is it,” a work-in-progress documentary, with footage that was
never necessarily meant to become a theatrical feature-length film, you
have to ponder, “What pop artist was or is better?”

<table width="200" align="right" bgcolor="" border="0" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1"><tr><td> </td></tr><tr><td>Michael
Jackson’s influence is woven through the creative process of the
mammoth, ambitious show. “This is It.” (Photo courtesy of NNPA)

could sing, act and gyrate, but he couldn’t dance. And his talent
didn’t extend into creating musical theater. Madonna takes elaborate
shows around the world, but she has a voice only a mother could love.
The Beatles have a catalogue of music that is unmatched to this day,
but on stage they just stood sang and played instruments.

As the
film starts, dancers convene for what was to be Michael Jackson’s final
rehearsals for a 50-night performance schedule in London. Some
poignantly reveal how important it was to dance with him. One hoofer
proclaims, “I was searching for something to give me meaning. This is

Skeptics might point out that Jackson was no Dalai Lama,
L. Ron Hubbard or Dr. Phil. But, to a young pop dancer, the chance to
perform with the person who changed dance for the MTV generation is
about as good as it gets.

Rehearsal footage depicts a fit MJ;
lean – not emaciated, energetic – not lethargic, lively – not near
death’s door. He jumps, twists, turns and hops with the same gusto and
precision as his back-up dancers. Only they are in their 20s and MJ is

That’s right – half a century old!

Often, he is
not singing in full voice, as he tries to preserve his vocal chords for
the up-coming concerts. Though some may say his vocals have been
enhanced, he sings a whole lot better than some of today’s top artists,
like Justin Timberlake. When he goes full out, he’s pitch perfect, his
voice is flexible and emotional.

This film is ambitious musical
theater that includes movie clips, elaborate sets (production designer
Bernt Amadeus Capra, set director Donald Elmblad), provocative costumes
and magical lighting. The most astonishing feat is MJ’s insertion into
a song in the movie “Gilda,” starring Rita Hayworth and Humphrey
Bogart. A machinegun-wielding Bogart chases Michael, and in black and
white footage – courtesy of a blue screen – you can see how the concert
magic is being created. There is another song in which dancers cavort
on frames like a construction site on the back of the set that is
bathed in a warm moss green metallic light that is simply mesmerizing.

handprints are all over this mammoth, ambitious show. Credit director
Kenny Ortega for the visual splendor and day-to-day coordination, but
as the footage attests, MJ is the captain of the ship. Both the
choreographer and vocal supervisor Dorian Holley defer to him.

Earth Song sequence is a patience-testing misstep. On film, in a
setting that must represent the Amazon, a young child runs through a
forest that is being demolished by bulldozers.

The moment is so
sentimental and politically correct that it grates on the nerves and
adds seven minutes to a 112-minute film that could have been a tad
shorter. Edited down from hundreds of hours of footage, each second is
crucial; this unfinished attempt at an eco friendly message should have
been left on the editing floor.

“Human Nature,” “Billie Jean,”
“Thriller”… the gloved one puts on a backstage show that is thoroughly
entertaining—and in fact more compelling than if the production team
had simply filmed the concert. Watching him create each
song/performance on a sound stage is as captivating as him singing and
dancing in front of a live audience.

There are some who will
claim this documentary is ghoulish. I think haunting is a better word,
as you fathom what the music world would have been like had he lived.

enlightening, behind-the-scenes documentary gives MJ a way of setting
the record straight. If any performer is more talented than he, or has
left more of an imprint on a musical generation, they should step up or
shut up.

(Visit NNPA Film Critic Dwight Brown at

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