From April through June this year, Michael Jackson rehearsed for 50 sold out concerts that were to be held in the summer. At a press conference announcing the concerts, Jackson said: This is it. This is the final curtain call. The concerts of course never happened.
Instead we have a film, which gives us a glimpse into the spectacle Jackson was planning. This is it, a rousing, foot-tapping concert documentary, is a fitting curtain call for the King of Pop.
The film is 111 minutes of rehearsal footage artfully put together by Kevin Ortega, who was earlier directing the concerts. We have Jackson’s dancers, singers, musicians, prop men and costume designers talking about the impact they were trying to create but mostly we have Jackson belting out the songs that made him a legend—from The Way You Make Me Feel to Thriller to Man in the Mirror.
The music is so infectious and Jackson’s talent so compelling that you would have to be dead to not respond to it. The scale and ambition of the enterprise is also astounding.
The concert even had an aerial consultant—that’s someone, I think, who consults on dancers doing acrobatics in the air. There are also some superbly done film inserts, including an introduction to Smooth Criminal, which has Jackson inserted into a black and white film co-starring Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart.
Jackson himself cuts an intriguing figure. His slender body, pale skin and restructured face make him look like an otherworldly Peter Pan. His looks suggest dark complexities but his personality, or at least the carefully edited version we see here, has the sweetness and vulnerability of a child. In one scene, he is even sucking on a lollipop.
Of course Ortega doesn’t reveal any chinks in the armor.
There is no sign that Jackson was sickly or even, slightly fatigued as he prepared to perform onstage after a gap of 10 years. Instead he seems a messiah in glittering clothes who is eager to spread the message of love and kindness—in the end, he asks his crew to work hard and take the audience to a place that they have never been before.
This is It is way too long and it doesn’t give us any insight into the man behind the myth. We still don’t know what Michael Jackson was really like or what fed his prodigious talent. But the film is an all access pass to a great entertainer’s working life.
For fans, it’s manna from heaven. But even those of us who don’t go into raptures at the sight of a shiny glove will find much to admire in this frail and fraught man. I recommend that you see it.