reviewed by Deborah Garcia
You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by a smooth criminal … and so, I was. My initial curiosity to see the last footage of Michael Jackson’s final concert rehearsals became utter fascination and inspiration within seconds after the film began.
Throughout my life, I hadn’t ever gotten overwhelmed with fandom for Michael’s music, even if it played in the backdrop to many of my formative years. This Is It has changed that and offers the same potential to others like me who never thought they’d fall under Michael’s spell.
Never-ending streams and pulses of dance energy shoot, pop and break out from Michael Jackson’s lithe frame with every breakbeat and syncopated rhythm. For a neophyte like me, it would have been easy to think he couldn’t contain his energy or, rather, what was so integral to his artistic depth: his chi and vital source of creativity. The truth is he contained and channeled his artistic creativity in measured and tempered song filled with long-drawn breaths, shouts, polished musicality and the art of motion.
This Is It provides such a complex view of Michael and all his talents: the film has a multidimensional focus, much like a faceted cube. There's a 3-D effect this documentary achieves and captures as MJ works, performs, directs and perfects what was so uniquely his—his own art form represented in the marriage of dance, song and feeling.
The viewer should pay a keen eye to his dance ticks and highly-tuned ear. Michael Bearden, credited as Michael’s music director, states, “Michael knows all the tempos, key signatures, key changes of each of his songs.” Michael could hear when the pitch and rhythm were off, too fast, and notes were thudded or being ham-fisted.
Directed by Kenny Ortega, Michael was given regal control while rehearsals went on. It didn’t end there. Michael’s own music seemed to never fail in inspiring him or translating into the infectious calls and responses his dancers carried through in moves and shouts while offstage. In every measured beat and note landed, one can hear a delicacy achieved and seamlessly delivered.
Ortega nurtured tremendous verve among the tour cast, resulting in sets where Michael powered through rehearsals with unstoppable skip and free-form dancing. Astoundingly, Michael mostly held his singing back during each rehearsal—a feat attributable to years spent mastering his music and from raw, unending depth of feeling. Michael said, “It’s all for love.” I finally believed him.
A studious understanding of his anthology of hits and his eras of cumulative success is lacking in my review. However, This Is It takes on a reprise to the indicting and unforgettable Martin Beshear interviews. With each hit performed in the film, it’s palpable how personal Michael intended to be with his fans. Each song is sung for you. So, when he opens with the softly-landed lyrics, “You and I must make a pact,” that artistic pact is most definitely alive with fans in every dance burst, extended vocals, and political message.
Michael certainly was on a different plane of creativity. The heightened sense he had for every performance detail amazes. He had an ear for the sounds, pitch, subtleties and nuances his music could take on--jazz rhythms, pop and rock beats. He heard notes others couldn’t and easily projected his vision for choreographed moves and precise musicality. In fact, Michael demanded the film’s musicians let the music breathe and come to a full rise without rushing—he wanted his fans to be “nourished” by it.
This Is It, the tour, would have delivered a highly designed narrative with pyrotechnics, growling and sizzling sound effects, and such a personalized message of Michael’s aesthetic that one can’t help thinking they were on the forefront of witnessing a new multigenre of concert, musical, acrobatics and video-making come to life. God bless Kenny Ortega and his talent for knowing how to capture and portray Michael’s musical legacy. This Is It kicked off and caught me up on long overdue respect for the King of Pop.
Deborah Garcia is a publishing and writing professional born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Continuing to straddle cultural fronteras, she moved back to her hometown in 2008 after having spent half of her life on the East Coast.