Sunday, November 1, 2009
Michael Jackson’s This Is It is one of the most powerful closing chapters in pop music history, and the fact that it chronicles a work in progress makes it all the more startling. A heroic effort assembled in an unbelievably short time span by the concert’s co-mastermind Kenny Ortega, This Is It is a stunning experience that incorporates song, dance, theater and cinema in a wholly unique way. This Is It is, as far as I am concerned, the film of the year.
This Is It wisely never mentions the tragic passing of Michael Jackson earlier this year, but its hard to watch the film without looking for the cracks we all thought we would see. They simply aren’t there though and the most shocking thing about This Is It is just how incredibly together Michael Jackson is throughout it. This is a man seemingly in full charge of both his art and life, and This Is It only makes the mystery surrounding his final year and death more unsolvable. Jackson looks, acts and sounds like a man fully revitalized; an artist on the cusp of what might have been his greatest moment.
While Ortega’s film is clearly a celebration of the music, talent and artistry of Michael Jackson, it is also a great tribute to the phenomenally talented artists on stage and off Jackson had assembled for his final tour. Perhaps the key moment of the film comes during a thrilling moment when Jackson is coaxing a more soaring guitar solo out of the already absolutely sizzling ax of Orianthi Panagaris. Jackson urges the uber-talented guitar player, who will blow everyone’s minds during "Beat It", to play harder and harder as he repeats, “This is your moment to shine” like a mantra, and indeed in This Is It Jackson and Ortega allows everyone to have their shining moment. The film might be dedicated “To the Fans” but it seems more than anything a salute to a group, who became a family, that never got to fully unleash their vision the way it should have been presented.
This Is It has so many spectacular moments that it is hard to really choose a favorite. Certainly the new "Smooth Criminal" video that allows Jackson to star in a film with Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart is among the film’s finest moments, as is the making of the new "Thriller" 3-D film, but the film really sparkles the most when it just focuses on Jackson and his group. The film’s most powerful scenes occur when Michael Jackson takes center stage armed with nothing but that unforgettable voice, and those jaw-dropping dance moves, that even the most nightmarish personal circumstances could not strip from him.
While it is hard not to feel frustrated and cheated at times that This Is It will never be seen as Jackson intended it to be, Ortega’s film allows us the privilege of watching Michael Jackson at work creating his totally unique and original vision. The film shows us a man who knows exactly what he wants from himself and the people around him. It also shows a smart and charismatic man who clearly loves the artists he is working with and, even in the moments when he is having trouble communicating the sound or image that he wants, he chooses to approach it with love and passion over any egotistical rudeness. This Is It perhaps offers us the greatest example of what Michael Jackson the person was like but, at the same time, it also deepens the inscrutability of the man. How is it possible, knowing what we know about those final months, that this deeply troubled man was capable of still being so brilliant and transcendent? That question will never be answered, but one unequivocal answer we do have now is this: Michael Jackson was a man and artist that had a lot more life left in him.
I got very choked up several times throughout This Is It’s running time, but each time I nearly lost it I was enveloped by the excitement and pleasure that only great art can give you. Michael Jackson’s life might have ended tragically, but This Is It presents him triumphant once again. There is a moment towards the end of this film, where Michael is alone on stage singing "Billie Jean" and he starts dancing, and you can feel the energy and creativity just pouring out of the man as he revisits one of his most legendary moments. Covered in sweat but appearing incapable of exhaustion, Jackson dances for the small crowd like he is performing for the world and it is one of the most joyous moments I have ever seen in a film. This Is It is a remarkable achievement deserving of all of the acclaim it is getting right now. As a documentary it is masterful film, as a work documenting one of the greatest artists we will ever see it is absolutely indispensable.