When I heard that Michael Jackson’s estate and AEG Live were going to release a film chronicling the rehearsals for what was supposed to be the ‘This Is It’ tour, I initially felt as if they were ‘stealing the pennies from a dead man’s eyes’, looking to make a very fast buck in an attempt to recoup money.
Happily, I could not have been more wrong.
I admit, when this tour was announced in April, with fifty planned shows at London’s O2 Arena, I thought ‘No way he’ll be able to do that, he’s a shadow of his former self.’
Again, I could not have been more wrong.
This film shows Jackson running through production numbers and trying out effects in what was to be the running order set list for the fully produced show. Some elements are more produced than others, including a wonderful sequence during ‘Smooth Criminal’ that inserts MJ into gangster films with Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth and Edward G. Robinson. Yes, I was skeptical when it began, but by the end of that sequence it became apparent that, had he lived, Michael would have delivered an amazing show that would have silenced most of his critics.
And that’s what the overwhelming feeling is while watching: ‘What might have been…?’ As a performer, when at his best, there was no equal. And seeing just the rehearsals for this tour, I walked out feeling cheated because the tour never came to be. I also asked myself repeatedly as I watched, ‘If he was THIS together onstage, what was going on in his personal life that led to his death?’ because, there’s no hint of confusion or weakness. He is always soft spoken when speaking with the director and crew, never cross and able to get his point across without questioning or berating anyone.
Jackson’s music is pure nostalgia for me. I was a fan during the Thriller era and stopped paying attention to his music after I was disappointed with the ‘Bad’ album in 1987. I remember around that time that he gave an interview to a magazine and said that he wanted his music ‘to be listened to and loved two hundred years from now, like Mozart.’ When I read that, I laughed. Seeing this film as a wonderful eulogy, and seeing how kids who weren’t even alive when Jackson put out his best material enjoy his classics, I think now that he may have been right, and some of his music may indeed prove timeless.
Lastly I must mention Kenny Ortega, tour director and the force behind getting this film released. He did a wonderful job editing this movie so it never gets bogged down in ‘tech speak’ but instead quickly moves from one great song to another. Even if you’re not a fan of Michael Jackson, if you’re a performer, or enjoy seeing art take shape before your eyes, go see this film. It is worth the time and the price of a ticket to celebrate what he was as a performer, and more importantly, what could have been had he not left so soon.
“Hold for applause…hold for applause…and fade out.’