Nov 2, 2009

This Is It, or Review Of A Movie I Refused To See but Ended Seeing Anyway.

Oh, well. Who could refuse an offer to play hooky and go to a midday movie? Even if it was about poor Michael Jackson, a subject that has us on the brink of exhaustion?
I realize that I don't really have anything much against MJ. I'm rather baffled, saddened and disturbed by his bizarre life of pain. I wish he had spent more time growing as an artist than lying under the knife. I wish he'd been less unhappy, less ill-equipped to deal with his prodigious talent and the fame and wealth that came with it and seemed to have undone him somehow.
What drives me crazy are the stupid, sentimental fans who think he is the Messiah (not that he didn't play the sensitive, misunderstood saint, like his hero, Princess Diana).
I resent his fetish status. I think it's not healthy. There are rabid fans of The Boss, and fans of The Beatles, and fans of U2 and The Stones, but none are as unstable and immature as Michael Jackson fans (even when he was alive). They creep me out more than him.
The documentary goes on forever and it's not very good footage of his rehearsal for the show that never was. It could have been a much better film if it didn't look like it was slapped on together as fast as possible and if it had showed more candor, less control of MJ's image, but it is unrealistic to expect anything but hagiography at this point. Apparently, the cameras were originally there so he could have the footage privately, which may explain the sloppiness of the footage.
The film starts with the show's dancers crying just because they are so happy to have been chosen. These talented people work their asses off, but there was no need to start the film with such a sentimental gesture.
But director Kenny Ortega is not Frederick Wiseman, who would know it is enough to hear the music, listen to MJ sing soulfully with that otherworldly voice of his, and bust his famous moves. It is enough to see the dedication to the work.
The first song is Gotta Be Starting Something. Every time I hear it, I marvel at how brilliant it is. And he had several great, great songs. Brilliant, not pop, as everybody claims, brilliant Black music. Brilliant soul-funk-dance music.
He is probably one of the greatest American dancers ever, right there with Fred Astaire. He has gorgeous, precise elegance. Perfect style. Even when riddled by grotesque surgery and God knows what else, the man has swing and funk in spades. The choreography for Thriller has not lost an ounce of freshness; it is a classic.
It is amazing to watch the guy dance.
Now, it is not true that the movie stays away from his ravaged face. There are several moments with close ups that are, to me, horribly disturbing. He barely has a nose, his lips look unreal, his hair sucks. He doesn't look human. He looks very lean, and seems in shape (his trainer: Lou Ferrigno, aka The Incredible Hulk). But he conserves energy and tries to conserve his voice. He has huge hands, too big for such a lithe body. I love watching how his feet tap to the rhythm, syncopating, like a tap dancer.
In this footage he is a quiet, benevolent diva with a reedy voice. He says "God bless you" way too much. He seems to be in another plane of existence; people hover around him. I wonder if he knew the dancers' names. There is an interesting moment when he wants the keyboardist to slow down and he says "as if you were dragging yourself out of bed". To the untrained ear, the difference is imperceptible. The pianist had trouble nailing it. Very exacting, and quite right.
The live music sounds almost exactly like the recorded versions. MJ says he wants the music to sound like the fans hear it. No need to futz around with what works.
The show seems to have been designed as a retrospective of his greatest hits, including some unfortunate, syrupy ballads, not his strong suit, and an awkward detour into the Jackson 5 hits, without his brothers.
Looks like it was going to be a great show. Spectacular, tacky and very generous.
He was a great talent and a great entertainer. That much is clear. He spent way too much time self-destroying in a completely unique way. Since he doesn't look half bad in the footage, one wonders what the hell drug cocktail was he on that he lost his life so suddenly, so carelessly.
I felt really bad for the dancers, who worshipped him and worked so hard. I felt bad for Zaldy, the talented designer in charge of MJ's costumes, and for all the people for whom this really seemed to be a labor of love and would have made such a difference in their lives.
MJ would have enjoyed the adoration at the fifty sold out concerts. Perhaps, at the age of 50, that would have made him feel a little better about himself.

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