This is an excellent piece of Michael Jackson propaganda
I felt nothing when Michael Jackson died. It’s not like I didn’t try to summon a tear but in the end the only emotion I could rustle up was ambivalence. This was surprising because usually when a celebrity dies, I do feel sad. Often extremely so.
When Natasha Richardson died, for example, I was deeply affected, even though I couldn’t name a single film she was in. When John Lennon died, I was terribly sad, even though I was only vaguely aware of The Beatles and I was only nine.
But when one of the world’s biggest pop stars died back in June, someone whose music had been the soundtrack to decades of my life, I was oddly unmoved. As much as I tried, I simply couldn’t connect to any great sense of loss or tap into that massive international out-pouring of grief.
Eventually, I realised it was because the Michael Jackson I loved died a long time before 2009. By the time of his actual death, he had become, to me, a pop cultural oddity. A human circus. Famous for things utterly unrelated to his music. Things that made me extremely uncomfortable. Things like the trials for child molestation and the evidence that was presented about his relationships with children.
Don’t get me started on that. It won’t end well.
I found this out when I posted as much on my website in the weeks after his death and was screamed down by furious fans who were outraged that anyone could express anything other than blind adulation for their dead icon.
So needless to say, I wasn’t carrying a bucket of excitement when I went to see the MJ movie This Is It last weekend. A bunch of my friends and their kids were going to see it and so I just kind of went along because I had nothing better to do.
Two hours later, I walked out of that cinema with a profound sadness and a real sense of loss FINALLY.
The movie is a documentary of sorts, although not really. During the months of rehearsals for his economically-necessitated ‘farewell’ concert that was due to take place in London this year, film crews captured more than 100 hours of footage. This included Michael rehearsing with dancers and back-up singers and making video segments that would have featured throughout the concerts.
This Is It: The Concert was going to be epic. Massive. Extravagant. And yet, the epicentre of it all was Michael Jackson THE PERFORMER. Strip away all the razzle and the dazzle and you were left with an astonishingly talented individual.
Watching the film, this was a wonderful thing to be reminded of, the fact that he was a performer. An extraordinary one. Sadly, one who became so removed from reality that he became….....a freak show. His life, his face, his family….it was all so heavily shrouded in weird.
What this movie does is strip back all of that and focus on Michael Jackson as a performer. Clearly though, it’s still a portrait painted entirely in rosy. Of more than 100 hours of footage, the hour or two we have is very tightly edited and unflinchingly positive.
Don’t go expecting a proper documentary or hoping for any clues as to how and why he died because you’ll be disappointed. Surely there were days when he didn’t show up to rehearsal or was out of it or dropped his game. But we see none of that. What we do see is a slightly different and slightly more candid MJ than the one who spoke at press conferences or in media interviews.
His voice - when talking normally - is far lower than the high-pitched breathiness he put on for the public. And musically, he knows his stuff in extreme technical detail. He is not a child or a victim when he’s in performer mode although it’s woefully apparent that he remained surrounded by sycophants until the end, which can’t have been a healthy thing.
What also struck me while watching the movie was that Michael Jackson was an incredible artist but one who didn’t evolve. All the things that made him so groundbreaking and unique in the 70s and 80s (crotch grabbing and moon walking etc) just didn’t translate into the 90s and 00s world of performers and music videos.
When he was still coming out in his white suits with the cropped pants and the fedora and grabbing his balls and squealing in those songs he released in more recent years while trying in vain for a come-back….well, it was cringey. It felt wrong and undignified. Humiliating.
But when you see him in concert (or in rehearsals at least) in a purely Michael Jackson context, it works. Oh how it works. His talent and genius is able to shine and make you feel nostalgic for those Off The Wall and Thriller years, which he was never able to recapture. And to appreciate them and feel sad about what a mess he made of his life.
This Is It is already the highest grossing concert film of all time and that’s not surprising. It’s certainly a fitting tribute to a great artist although the propaganda argument is undeniable.
As one friend said, “I walked into that movie thinking he was a paedophile and walked out thinking he was a misunderstood genius.”
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