It’s safe to say that Michael Jackson’s This Is It fulfills multiple functions. It permits fans (as well as the merely curious) to bid farewell to Mister Never Can Say Goodbye. It will almost certainly defray the losses of the promoters who lost a bundle on Jackson’s last concert tour that never happened because of his untimely death (not to mention bring a few million simoleans to the Jackson estate). Most of all it gives us a peep into the creative process of the prince of pop.
Director/choreographer Kenny Ortega makes a virtue of the unfinished. From over 100 hours of rehearsal footage he edited the passages so that they play as an unfinished symphony to an unfinished life.
I enjoyed this rough work-in-progress more than I would have the polished show, for the ragged process tells us more about the perfectionist Jackson and his relations with his singers and dancers than the razzle-dazzle of the concert, which would have been spangly and clockwork in its pageantry.
Do we learn anything about Jackson in the process? A little. That when giving direction to his musicians and dancers, he favors cooking metaphors like "simmer" and "sizzle." That he defied his Skeletor presence with hoofer’s gusto. That he husbanded his voice, letting rip only on "Human Nature" and "Beat it." That even in rehearsals, he carefully dressed, coiffed and made-up as for cameras. (He commissioned videographers to tape the rehearsals as reference material for future work.)
For those of who witnessed Jackson on screen, stage and tabloid over 40 of his 50 years, Kenny Ortega’s tribute is so concentrated on the performer that there is little time to think about the three-ring circus of Jackson’s life. (OK, once I gasped when I saw his Barbie-doll nose swimming in the face reconstructed to resemble that of Elizabeth Taylor. It was like seeing a Roman statue with the nose broken off.)
Walking out of the theater I felt the contradictory satisfactions that a) Michael Jackson was still alive and that B) he died doing what he loved most.
The undersung Kenny Ortega, the guy who choreographed Dirty Dancing, who directed High School Musical and directed productions for the likes of Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers, did a masterful job. I gasped a second time at the realization that he lost both Swayze and Jackson this year.
The film’s funniest moment comes when Ortega affectionately mimics one of Jackson’s grand semaphores, causing the performer to giggle, "I love the way stewardesses do that."
Are you in a Jackson hole or will you see this? Favorite concert film?