Saturday, October 31, 2009
This Is Shit
My friend Rachel and I went to see the Michael Jackson (read Kenny Ortega's Big Cash Bonanza) movie, This is It. I think a more appropriate title would be This Is Shit. Watching it was like watching the last public video taken of Elvis a few weeks before his death; you're watching someone who used to be a vivid, electrifying entertainer, and now you're seeing a decaying, shell of a man, and it is uncomfortable. It felt invasive, like watching someone you don't know well get a private medical procedure.
The footage for This Is It came from Jackson's rehearsals for his farewell concert series in London; it was for his private archive, and clearly was not shot with the intention of having anyone see it, and it should've stayed that way. There was not enough material for a two-hour movie, nor was it high-caliber. MJ (as he's called throughout the film) looked frail and stiff -- almost arthritic. He didn't sing a lot of the lyrics to his songs, but whether that was because he was trying to save his voice or because he was bombed out of his mind, we'll never know. Well, actually, I do know that he was bombed out of his mind. MJ was barely coherent when he spoke; at one point he told his musicians to let the music "simmer" for a while longer. Another example showing how drug-addled his brain was: MJ filmed a new film noir-style concert video for "Smooth Criminal." At one point a nighttime cityscape fades into a movie marquis that says "Smooth Criminal." MJ and his dancers were trying to arrange a cue that depended on this video, and Ortega, the concert producer, asks Jackson how he can gauge the cue when he's standing in front of the monitor. MJ's response? "I'll feel it."
Rachel's opinion of the movie seemed to mirror mine; she said that about half an hour into it she was thinking, "It's dead. Now, can we eat it?" In spite of the half-hearted singing and arthritic dancing, many of the people in the theater clapped after every number! There were a few minutes of cool in the film: the new concert videos they had shot for "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal" were neat, and his dancers and musicians were amazingly talented. They mentioned that the dancers did physical therapy and pilates a few days a week, which I thought was interesting, but makes sense in light of the physical demands of their job.
The movie left me no doubt that London concert goers probably were going to see the best performance of their lives; every aspect of this concert was completely over the top, and Jackson said so when he reminded his co-performers that they were going to show fans "talent like they've never seen before" and take them "places that they've never been before." Even the rigor of the rehearsals, let alone the concerts, would've been daunting to a healthy 25 year-old, let alone a 50 year-old addict (that last descriptor was said with compassion, no judgment). I left the movie feeling certain that if Jackson, emotionally and physically decrepit, hadn't died in June, he certainly would've died during this concert series.
I'm leaning toward the opinion that this movie never should've been released because Jackson, the epitome of a perfectionist, would not have wanted us to see this. However, I have sympathy for the Jackson family, because MJ was millions of dollars in debt, which is why he was doing his London concert series in the first place. No doubt This Is It will earn the three Jackson kids a nice royalty, but in the end, it's their dad who loses, and Kenny Ortega who wins. For shame.