“This Is It” a bittersweet triumph for Michael Jackson, fans


June 25, 2019 will mark the 10th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing. While a great deal of attention has been paid to the singer’s doctor and his role in the performer’s death, what is sometimes forgotten is that Jackson was preparing for a final tour consisting of 50 cities, and set to kick off in London. “This Is It” is not quite a concert movie. Instead, it is an almost-concert movie. The tour never took place because of Jackson’s untimely death.

Directed by choreographer and director Kenny Ortega, “This Is It” does not offer viewers the typical concert movie scene of thousands of screaming fans in an arena. Instead, it is Jackson with his crew and a cadre of backup dancers and singers. The movie focuses on technical aspects of the tour: the CGI, the spring and door mechanisms that can propel dancers out of the floor at various speeds, the makeup and other effects for the 3-D version of “Thriller.”

The movie also allows people to hear and see Jackson as some have never before: as a human with the desire to perfect his show. Watching Jackson dance, however, a viewer cannot help but think of the pain that made the performer need his own physician who allegedly over-prescribed pain medication to Jackson. “This Is It” doesn’t necessarily show viewers how long certain days have been, but the point is made that performing with Jackson involves long and hard work. But, the payoffs are high.

“This Is It”: a look at performers

The film begins with what looks like a series of interviews. Hopeful dancers and singers, who all look very young, gush at the prospect of performing with Jackson. The mostly young men look as though they could be in boy bands. With stylish shaved heads or shaggy hair, they must have the moves to keep up with the King of Pop. And the successful ones do. Their bodies move fluidly through the moves required by the demanding choreography. In a proactive move, the show’s behind the scenes professionals lead the dancers in Pilates and yoga for maintenance. Still, given Jackson’s chronic pain, viewers cannot help but wonder how long each of them will have before they develop pain that won’t go away.

“This Is It”: Michael Jackson’s catalog

The final tour of Jackson’s life was scheduled to include a number of songs from the singer’s lengthy catalog. A range of familiar tunes run through the film as Jackson and his backup singers, musicians and dancers bring the songs to life. And, the arrangement of songs does not include just playing them back to back. Sometimes a song has to be stopped and re-started. Jackson gives instruction, the director (who has created the film) asks for further input and audiences can see Jackson being deferred to and the exchanges between him and the director sound as amicable as can be expected, or more so.

Jackson also apparently meant to include songs from the Jackson 5 era of his career. After singing a few songs, Jackson takes a break from singing to list his brothers and to tell them he loves them. The moment is touching.

At the end, where a person might expect the performer’s name to be presented along with birth and death dates, none appear. It is as though viewers are to believe that Jackson lives forever. Certainly in the hearts of fans, he does.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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