This Is Iti documents the auditioning and rehearsal processes for Michael Jackson’s eponymous swan song of concerts that were to be held at the O2 Arena in London UK starting in July 2009. The fifty sold-out concerts obviously never happened – Jackson overdosed in his LA home just three weeks before the series commenced.
This film, then, offers a rare and post-humous glimpse of an aged yet incredibly sharp, and I do mean sharp! artist who wanted one more shot at glory. This is Michael Jackson in his element, away from the crowds and the cameras. This is Michael Jackson like you’ve never seen him before.ii
I, for one, was jaw-wide-open, agog and aghast, almost the entire film. Never having been a huge MJ fan, though hardly having lived under a rock sufficiently large to have sheltered me from his music, music videos, and cultural influence, I had no particular expectations of the documentary. Undistracted and undiluted by the inane Kiefer Sutherland-type voiceover I would’ve expected from a ‘behind-the-scenes-never-before-seen’ film of this sort, but was blessedly absent here, the scenes spoke for themselves. And loudly.
Jackson was, and I don’t use this term lightly, radiant. Never anything less than present and confident, never fiddling with his phone or posting photos of himself on Instagram like every other ‘pop star’ half or a third his age, he was always respectful, ever polite and gracious, and a consummate gentleman, not to mention a fucking unbelievable talent. I’m tempted to call his musical mastery ‘a gift,’ but that would be a disservice to the 45 years, or 90% of his life, that he spent in singular-minded devotion to his vocation.iii
The result of MJ’s lifetime of effort is world-class precisioniv : the kind that’s not only mesmerising to behold in and of itself – seriously, how does a 50-year-old have that level of control over every. single. last. muscle fibre ?! – but also the kind that attracts further world-class talent, serving as a nucleating force for the visual and performing arts.v Everyone from the back-up dancers to the guitarists to the special effects coordinators to the make-up artists were la crème de la crème, to say nothing of Kenny Ortega, the show’s director, who’s an absolute magician in his own right.vi Interestingly, Ortega was the choreographer (not director) of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the original Dirty Dancing.vii No wonder he moves so well.
Overall, this film is a testament to the power of stars to attract other stars, as well as to the sweet fruits of a dedicated life.
As far as contemporary documentaries go, this one’s a treat.
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- 2009, Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega [↩]
- Well, maybe. Hey, for all I know you’ve got posters of the guy on your ceiling so that his red-leather-jacket-wearing-23-year-old mug is the last thing you see before you drift off to sleep. But I sorta doubt it. So ima stick with the corny marketingspeak… just this once. [↩]
- Is it really any wonder MJ had some unusual sexual predilections and body image hang-ups ? He didn’t go to school like you and I did, he didn’t write tests and learn to type and play tag at recess. He lived in a parallel universe from Day 1. [↩]
- The kind Tiger and Formula 1 had when they were younger and in better shape. That Michael kept *it* for so many years is some kind of miracle. [↩]
- Sorta like MPEx does for finance. [↩]
- Hell, if you ever had any preconceptions of theatre or film directors as being red-faced, sore-throated, ball-busting, ass-squeezing megalomaniacs for whom it’s their way or the highway, Kenny Ortega’s grace, composure, positive demeanour, and deftness in handling the star of the show will put those stereotypes firmly to rest. Seriously, I’d hire Ortega in a heartbeat. [↩]
- Dirty Dancing is not only notable for its hard bodies and over-the-top dance numbers, but also for having taken a $6 mn production budget and turned it into 36x that at the box office. So what if Furious Seven brought in $1.5 bn, it cost 1/6th of that to make and probably another 1/6th or two to market, netting maybe twice what investors put up initially over a 3-year writing, production and release schedule.
I dunno if you’ve been following the stock market, but $AAPL, $FB, and a buncha other scams have yielded a better ROI in that time, indicating that doubling your money in the past three years was more or less keeping up with inflation. Don’t believe the stock market or Hollywood ? Believe the metronome : Bitcoin. [↩]