Monday, November 2, 2009

“This Is It”: For the Concert and the Man

The thing I loved most about “This Is It” was that it is first and foremost a movie about the concert that was not to be. It isn’t an examination of Michael Jackson’s life, his controversies and his contributions. The entire footage assembled is purely of the concert itself and not a single frame of external footage has been used. Not once does it go into all his philantropic work, his personal life or his past. It is about this concert and the work that went into it: not only by Michael Jackson but also Kenny Ortega, a group of stunning dancers and musicians and a legion of professionals: costume and production designers, technicians, visual effects supervisors. These people went to great lengths to conceptualise and create a concert that was not only technically brilliant and visually awe-inspiring but was representative of Michael Jackson’s larger than life personality and his work. The best of talents were assembled for the concert who seemed to have been in awe of the King of Pop and put their heart and soul into making the concert memorable. It is almost heartbreaking to see the amount of effort that has been lost due to MJ’s untimely death. From this movie, it seems clear that the world missed out on a great concert.

Told in an episodic fashion with the creation and (intended) execution of each song, “This Is It” covers most of the popular MJ tracks and demonstrates how the concert aimed at giving a fresh look to his works. The reworking of “Thriller,” “Earth Song” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” in particular looked stunning. The original songs themselves are testimony to the legacy of work that MJ has left behind. One may love or hate the man but one cannot deny the contribution he has made to the world of music and dance. He perfected his steps, be it the pelvic thrusts or the moonwalk, practically to a distinct and unique dance form. His music was contemporary, edgy and most importantly, very socially relevant. This, I believe is one of the reasons for their wide appeal. He was the man behind popularising the music video and MTV owes a lot to him for its success. The movie is a fitting reminder of these things, and more.

In assembling the footage, it is inevitable to catch glimpses of the King himself and drawing inferences about him therefrom. It is clear that MJ was always a performer first and singer second. He rarely got by without an army of background singers. However, he always was entertaining as hell. From the movie, MJ comes across as a kind, patient and a very soft spoken person. Not once did he raise his voice for anything. At the same time, he was clear on what he wanted from the musicians and dancers and was determined to work with them as long as necessary to get it. There are sequences where he works with the Music Director for “The Way You Make Me Feel” and the musicians on stage for “Beat It” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” that testify to this. At 50, he surprisingly has all of the energy and vitality that was characterisitc of him in the 80s and 90s. However, most importantly, it is clear that here was a man who was ambitious and audacious. He had his quirks and oddities but was never once apologetic about them. There were several moments in the movie that illicited guffaws from the audiences as MJ acted like his usual self, be it when he is dancing, talking or merely existing. Such responses were probably typical for him especially in the last few years of his life. However, never did he try to change them for being more acceptable. All this and more and is well reflected in the documentary.

All in all, “This Is It” is a well made documentary. The closing scene and performance is a particularly haunting one. For MJ fans, it is a fitting tribute to one of the most extraordinary performers of the century and his work. He is now a part of the greatest jam session ever with the likes of John Lennon, Hendrix, Freddie Mercury and more. Even otherwise, it is a solid music documentary that will appeal to music and movie lovers alike. Is it one of the great music documentaries like Woodstock? I don’t really know as I haven’t seen any other music documentary. However, it is a worthy documentation of the concert that was not to be and the labour that went into it. Most importantly, it is worth the price of admission and must be seen on the big screen.

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