The movie and music press appears divided on the new Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It,” with at least one major writer blasting it as a desecration of a great artist’s memory and others viewing it as a spectacular behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a Jackson arena show.
The harshest review I saw was in yesterday’s Washington Post where Chris Richards concluded, “For a man who so desperately wanted to show us perfection — or at least project the illusion of it — Jackson would never, ever want us to see this film.”
“Must the show really go on?,” the writer asked, rhetorically. “At best, ‘This Is It’ is a mere sketch of what Jackson seemed capable of delivering in London, with the King of Pop only half-singing, half-dancing through his most rousing hits. Stiff and frail, he paces the stage, during ‘Wanna Be Starting Something,’ as if mulling things over in his mind. At times, he appears almost lost inside himself.”
I don’t think Richards is seeing the movie for what it is — a carefully edited souvenir of the rehearsal work that was done for a show that never happened.
Rehearsals are “sketches” that are made on the way to that first performance in front of a paying audience. The carefully controlled energy that we see Jackson maintaining in the movie is probably not all that different from what we might have observed at a rehearsal for the most recent U2 stadium extravaganza or Bette Midler’s current Las Vegas spectacle, “The Showgirl Must Go On.”
Jackson wasn’t working for “us,” he was trying to get himself ready for a grueling 50-show run in London last summer.
The movie does have a sad and creepy undertone. We watch armies of technicians, brilliant musicians and phenomenal dancers who don’t realize they are on the edge of an abyss — “MJ,” as he is called throughout the film, has only days to live and all of these people will never see their efforts come to fruition.
The movie wisely stays inside the Los Angeles arena where the show was being put together. We get no glimpses of Jackson’s private life. Indeed, the few times the star speaks it is in such a whisper that subtitles appear on screen to let us know what he is saying.
People who go to “This Is It” expecting a traditional concert film will probably be disappointed by the way that the numbers have been cobbled together from various rehearsals. But, the movie stands alone as a behind-the-scenes look at how giant arena shows are put together and as a poignant glimpse of a very troubled star working toward a comeback that would elude him.