Believe the hype. This Is It dispels any doubts about Michael Jackson’s creative genius.
Clearly separating him from other artists of his day, longtime collaborator and the film’s director Kenny Ortega emphasizes exactly why Michael Jackson earned his “King of Pop” title. Culled from more than one hundred hours of footage, This Is It goes beyond the best of Michael Jackson’s rehearsal reels. Instead, Ortega – better known now for directing the High School High Musical films than his many other achievements which include co-creating and co-directing Jackson’s Dangerous and HIStory world tours, elects to highlight Michael Jackson’s creative process and erases any doubt that what you saw with Michael came from anybody but him and God.
In a world of manufactured music where contemporary artists, many with big names, are unable to sing and dance simultaneously, This Is It reminds us that Michael Jackson was of a generation of cultivated and honed talent where practice did indeed make perfect. There was no resting on laurels with Michael Jackson. It wasn’t just magic. It was tireless work and effort – the two attributes that aren’t often applied to the genius of African-American performers so liberally.
Those with less historic eyes will miss that Michael Jackson was very much a product of his generation and culture. In many ways, the Michael most often reflected in the media falls in line with historic dismissals of African-American genius. This Is It works hard not to indulge the childlike, forever “boy” portrayal of Michael that has become a cliché. Instead, what emerges is a man, a consummate professional, fully capable of directing his own vision.
Watch the Today Show report on the much anticipated opening of ‘This Is It’
It’s almost as if Ortega is lifting the veil of which W.E.B. DuBois wrote. You better believe that Michael Jackson was well aware of his “twoness”. Born in 1958, just three years after Emmett Till’s murder, and rising to stardom in the early 1970s, just as the desegregation edict was actually being applied in many public schools in the North and the South, Michael Jackson knew his place. He knew the boundaries and he challenged them, accepting nothing less than his full due. When his costume designer Zandy speaks of the engineers and unlikely collaborators needed to achieve Michael Jackson’s vision in just his clothing alone, he reminds us exactly of what Michael was all about: pushing boundaries.
But he was also about preserving some history. Watch his dance moves and there will be glimpses of stepping, as well as the church at revival time. During one sequence, the wop – an early and popular hip-hop dance – is clearly at play. It’s hard not to watch him grabbing his crotch, which is exposed as an art form through the lessons the other male dancers receive, and not think of the countless rappers of today.
Throughout the film, it’s only natural to look for signs of his death. Did Jackson have a premonition? If he did, there’s no evidence of it here. He looks extremely gaunt at times and there are definitely sequences where he appears more like an alien than a human being. But there are so many others where he’s surprisingly sexy, moving and posing like a rock star. During awesome dance performances, he’s lean and graceful. And his voice, even as he holds back, still astonishes.
His face may have grown increasingly unrecognizable from that of the little boy the world initially fell in love with, but the gleam in his eyes was unalterable. To see him work in This Is It and to watch him perform in the flashbacks with his brothers, it’s clear: Michael Jackson was at his best entertaining the world.