Thanks to the round-the-clock coverage that the mainstream media gave Michael Jackson's death and its aftermath, by now you've heard how he died and how he lived. All that was left was to see if the undisputed King of Pop still had what it took to live up to that title. Feted as a tribute to his life and career, This is It is a montage of rehearsal tape shot during MJ's preparations for his sold-out concert at London's O2 Arena. Using footage from April to June 2009, just days before his untimely death, the documentary was a raw portrayal of Jackson that had never been seen.
Full disclosure: I am and always have been a tremendous fan of his music, his story, and the character that Michael Jackson was. I grew up on his music, living only the first year of my life without his music -- and only because he, the consummate perfectionist, needed a little extra time on Thriller. The guy people labeled a weirdo and a freak was a major force in my life, lending the soundtrack to my personal and professinal triumphs and being a constant source of happy feelings that coincided with my childhood. I grew up with him in my ear, and his death devastated me, as did the other tragedies that befell him. I wept when he was acquitted on child molestation charges, my heart hurt when Martin Bashir went all judo-journalist on him, and I get chills every time I hear his voice and watch him dance. Accepting his flaws, his gifts, and whatever else he offered me from afar, I am a superfan and always will be.
That said, I walked into the theater (tardy for the party by about
five minutes) with "Wanna Be Startin' Something" blasting from the
screen. It's one of my all-time favorite songs and the only song I want to
hear when something amazing has happened in my life; my arms thrust
immediately in the air, and I get excited and ready to party. When I turned the
corner into the theater, the audience was still. WTF? I thought the screening would be somewhat more upbeat.
Eventually, the crowd showed the kind of vigor I expected: screaming when Mike did "I Want You Back," giving a hearty "Ho!" during
"Beat It," and igniting with audible flames when the opening chords to "Thriller" played. Sure, they giggled when Michael asserted his
masculinity during "The Way You Make Me Feel," but I expected there would be a scoff factor -- after all, it was a media screening.
And Michael. For anyone who wanted to say he was sickly and unable
to pull off a show like he used to, the film showed that was
absolutely untrue. His voice was perfect, flawless. To be untouched by his voice when he sang "Human Nature" would be hard for even the blackest of hearts. His dance moves,
though often done in typical toned-down rehearsal fashion, were exquisite and exactly what you'd expect from a 50-something legend who
had been dancing hard-core since 1964. When he performed the legendary Billie
Jean routine, bets were off -- he was fine and ready to kill.
Incorporating his classic choreography with new ish like the Halle
Berry and crump dancing, Jackson was in top form. There were moments
when he would lose himself in song and dance, asking his crew: "Why'd
you let me do that? You know I have to conserve [myself for the
Gushing aside for a sec, the only moment in the film that was creepy
was when they showed the clip that all the news outlets couldn't stop
showing months ago. It was a reminder that he was gone, how it
happened, and the entire shitstorm behind it. Besides that, the film
showed his lucidity, his quest for perfection, and the fact that this
music shit wasn't just about the money or the fame -- it was utterly in
his bones. He knew exactly what he wanted to hear, see, and do, and he did it
to "show people things they had never seen before, take people to
places they'd never been before." Watching him speak of being
"nourished by" and possessed by the music really made for a
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spectacular show. Superfan or not, no one left that
screening thinking Jackson is anything less than the undisputed
King of Pop. And neither did the hundred or so people lined up for
hours to catch the midnight show.