This Is It
Credits: Directed by Kenny Ortega
Details: In Cinemas 28 October 2009, United States, English
Synopsis: 'Michael Jackson's THIS IS IT' will offer Jackson fans a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer as he developed, created and rehearsed for his concerts that would have taken place beginning this summer in London's O2 Arena. Chronicling the months from April through June, 2009, the film is produced with the full support of the Estate of Michael Jackson and drawn from more than one hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, featuring Jackson rehearsing a number of his songs for the show. Kenny Ortega, who was both Michael Jackson's creative partner and the director of the stage show is also directing the film, which is being produced by Randy Phillips, Kenny Ortega and Paul Gongaware.
An engrossing, if at-times baffling depiction of a fading icon on the comeback trail.
Michael Jackson – This Is It is not meant to exist. The 100 hours of footage it was assembled from was probably going to furnish nothing more a few minutes of DVD bonus material or a concert screen sequence. But following Jackson’s death from cardiac arrest on June 25 it’s an unexpected and uneven final artistic testament – an outpouring of celebrity hagiography that still manages to function as an act of demystification. Like much of his life it doesn’t make sense, but you can’t help watching.
The circumstances were tough. He was 50 years-old, in serious financial straits, a good quarter of a century past his recording peak and about to return to the stage after an absence of 12 years. Shot at rehearsals in Los Angeles that occurred between April and June of this year – the mammoth production was eight days away from relocating to London, where Jackson had sold out 50 shows at the O2 Arena when he died – This Is It is about a man testing himself. I’m not entirely sure he knew the answer even as the deadline loomed.
Filmmaker Kenny Ortega, a former choreographer and recent overlord of the High School Musical franchise, created the stage show with Jackson and he’s subsequently overseen the film’s assemblage. It’s an odd thing to watch – rehearsals can be mundane, although watching a hyper-media figure such as Jackson do something mundane actually humanises him.
Yet even playing to a small crowd of technicians you can see Jackson preparing for the audience, planning every movement and emotion. “I’m sizzling,” explains Jackson – “MJ” to the senior co-workers who converse directly with him – at one point, standing still and soaking up the imaginary applause.
The footage mixes handheld digital video and film stock. It’s a mish-mash and that’s accentuated by the editing. Of the songs Jackson runs through, and there are a fair proportion of his biggest hits included, virtually none unfold within a single take. Different takes from different days are cut together; it makes for a brighter performance, but not a particularly clear document.
Given that the Los Angeles coroner reported a variety of drugs within Jackson’s body at his time of death, it’s difficult not to measure the man against his final days. On screen he’s rail thin and at time he coasts through rehearsals, often noting that he’s preserving his voice; after a full-tilt take of 'Beat It' you can see him breathing heavily.
His presence is as expected: the soft speaking voice, the undeniably damaged face, the physical grace. What’s notable is that even in a work situation, a comparatively uninhibited setting, he distorts the actions of those around him. Merely being on stage with him leaves his dancers in tears, but beyond that you see how his choreographer, Travis Payne, is always at his side, supplying a beat or offering a reassuring nod of the head. Jackson’s musical director, keyboardist Michael Bearden, is the only person seen to have some snap in his rapport with Jackson. His pointed request at one stage for Jackson to attend soundcheck is the only sign of professional dissonance.
Per previous Michael Jackson tours, shoots were held for effect sequences and video interludes. It’s completely grandiose – “go to infinity!” Jackson tells a digital effects guru turning a dozen dancers into an army – with one scene mixing Jackson into vintage noir so that he catches Rita Hayworth’s glove from Gilda and gets menaced by Humphrey Bogart. It’s a telling idea in a film that becomes overly sentimental, because beyond being an ersatz concert film, This Is It is a detective story. It’s a piece of evidence about the final months of Michael Jackson’s life and you are the gumshoe, looking for clues as to why on the cusp of his comeback it all so suddenly ceased.
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