Michael Jackson’s This is It

Michael Jackson’s This is It

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Michael Jackson's This is It

 

I felt the same way you did. Surely, I felt, this documentary, compiled of rehearsal footage of Michael Jackson’s announced final tour, would be an exploitation; a cynical way to recoup the losses of Jackson’s untimely death. It would be a way to exploit the celebrity death cult and turn Jackson’s mere lionization into an outright sainthood. Would there be any possible way, I asked myself, to make a film, so soon on the heels of Jackson’s death, the least bit tasteful?

 

I am happy to report that – despite a few moments of dancers gushing about what a god Jackson was, and a pre-credits memorial still – Kenny Ortega’s film is a tasteful look at a hard-working entertainer. It manages to capture not just the raw talent of a pop legend, but also allows the moments of complaints, the screw-ups, and a few moments of Jackson behaving like a prima donna (“This mic is like a fist in my ear!”), unfold with an unexpected naturalness.

 

In addition to showing what a spectacular show this concert was to be (it was to incorporate a full-size 3-D movie screen, fireworks, and several dozen dancers and musicians onstage), “This is It” also throws in a lot of  the show’s set list, mixing in completed music videos, and makes tactful pauses for entire musical numbers.

 

Look at Jackson. He was 50 years old when this film was hot, and still moves like a professional dancer. He says at a few points that he is not singing because he’s trying to “save his voice” for the show, but on more that one occasion, belts out with one of his hits because he can’t help himself. He is seen tirelessly working with his tam of dancers (all of which are, lithe, talented, and utterly amazing) and choreographing down to the last wrist flick. He works with his backup singers, supporting them, and making sure they have the chops to be on stage with him.

 

And we see him, most entertainingly, bickering with his band, giving some abstruse directions like “play it like you just got out of bed.” His band is a motley crew of incredibly talented individuals, including a buff, porn star-looking guitarist named Tommy Organ, a cutesy 24-year-old Aussie chick with the chops of Steve Vai named Orianthi Panagaris, and a cocky keyboardist credited as Mo Pleasure.

 

Jackson was a professional. When we think of Michael Jackson, we immediately think of the freaky stories: The lawsuits, the oxygen tank, the bones of The Elephant Man, the strange menagerie of animals, the personal amusement park. “This is It” shows that he was an artist as well, and a consummate performer.

 

Since “This is It” was a film only of rehearsals, and not of the finished product, we’re not seeing Jacko operating at the height of his talents, which is a pity, as the concert promised to be something amazing. Luckily, seeing the man work, we get a full sense of what kind of performer he was, what kind of man he was, and what a loss it was when he died.

 

Thanks for the years of entertainment, Michael. Thanks for this classy and unexpected document, Ortega.

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Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 8:47 pm  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great review, Witney. I wrote one on my blog as well, naturally. I think a lot of the audience made assumptions that Michael was a primma donna, I definitely didn’t take it that way at all, especially having had the pleasure of seeing him work and be a human being four times the last 8 years of his life. He was a perfectionist and that’s what really came across the majority of the time, and I believe he did his best to be respectful of his co-workers and certainly his fans. That said, the ‘fist in the ear’ was pretty hilarious. I had the same concerns about the film you did, and I was happy that it wasn’t exploitative. I don’t think MJ would have at all wanted it released, solely because he wanted to be so in control of the finished product and certainly wasn’t giving his all for rehearsals, but it’s the best we’ve got and I’m proud they decided to release it as he always wanted to be portrayed as himself, and I believe this documentary gets closer to that than most footage of him does, at least as an artist. It was great to be in a theater with people waving hands and holding up lighters, I probably won’t see that again anytime soon! Thanks for another great review.

  2. Awesome review. Great film and pleasantly unexpected.

  3. The talent MJ had is unbelieveable. Controversies or no controversies, MJ alsways knew how to be in news, even after death.

  4. Hello – as manager of the “cocky keyboardist credited as Mo Pleasure,” I must correct your review to reflect that “Mo Pleasure” is not a moniker. Morris “Mo” Pleasure is his given name and he also happens to be a rather humble keyboardist, bassist, trumpeter and guitarist.

    Best,

    Ms. T

    • I reacted to the scene in whicn Mr. Pleasure seems to be openly busting Mr. Jacksons chops, which I actually found to be very amusing; my description of him as “cocky” is not an insult.

      It’s also good to acknowledge just how talented he is, as he can play such a variety of instruments. From what I understand, Michael Jackson did not recriut any musicians or dancers who were anything less then amazing. Mo Pleasure would have had to be good.

      As for his name, I guess I shouldn’t throw stones. I’m a male named Witney.

  5. All the money in the world, top vari@lites -scanners and moving truss systerms and thats the best lighting you,s can pull off. come on, I could do better with a.v projectors, 200 par 64,s and 10 martin heads. I,ll get my chance soon to show the world what I got want it takes to be the greatest lighting man on both sides of the earth. Chris Simmons,
    SHOWLITE PRODUCTIONS

  6. my great fan

  7. The “David Bowie” serious moonlite “1983”. This was it! . The tours of all tours . I was on the lighting crew over seas and came back to New-Zealand with this tour. This was the first band ever to tour with vari@lites, all 48 of them. 600 assorted par,64s .Ten front of house suppertroppers that ” Deep purple left behind in Australia on their final world tour leg. Where I was operating “DAVID BOWIE” was a stick of white light. We had a hugh ball of the world that he supported on his arms and then let it go over the sea of people . I then followed it with a short throw arc light. When in Wellington it rained and blow as it does, while I was talking to bowie, we both were taken back by a young man that was covered in blood as two police officers were coming under the stage towards us dragging him . Bowie asked for them to release him. I could not tell if he was black or white as his face was so red with the blood. We traveled with only 7 semi,s back then. No more was needed . We did not need 96 of them And yes we pulled it off as if out their in the sea of fans new any differant. A 3rd of the gear brought over from Dallas Texas from the company SHOWCO inc. That was the way we did things back in the 80,s and more gear picked up from “Jands concert productions” in Sydney with more crew. How times have changed. Concert tickets costing over the top because the road crews think bigger is better. Check out the d.v.d your self my friend you tell me Christmas 1983. “On the road with Mr David Bowie” written by Chris Simmons of Showlite , lighting engineer “3/10/2011

  8. wow that’s cool as that you done work with bowie..


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