Michael Jackson’s This Is It

This is it. Three words that can be used to express very different emotions depending on the placement of stress or cadence upon the three syllables.

A flat delivery can convey the feeling of being underwhelmed. As in . . . ‘The couple entered the £150k studio flat, looked left, then right, before sighing, “Oh, this is it.”’

However, if the stress is applied to the final word, the opposite effect is implied – an exclamation of how monumentally brilliant something is. For example: “I’m so glad we stretched our budget to £2.5 million. Look at the view from the helipad! This is it.”

Or, given an upward inflection, one can ask a question, such as . . . ‘Sir Fred Goodwin looked at his bonus cheque. “This is it?” he exclaimed in dismay. Then he realised his gaucherie and blushed. There was, of course, a second page of noughts.’

There are many more ways, but my awareness of your attention span and my very limited grasp of prosody deters me from providing an exhaustive list.

I was, however, curious to find out which one I would be using to describe Michael Jackson’s tribute film, This Is It, which was recently released on DVD.

It started badly. All my fears of what type of tribute this would be came to fruition as the dancers from the show took turns to utter breathy, weepy praise down the lens.

But then it got better. They showed Michael Jackson singing and dancing like an actual popstar. I’d almost forgotten he did that. So much of the media attention in the years, months and weeks preceding his demise focussed on depicting him as an insane weirdo, that his status as the ‘King of Pop’ often seemed secondary to his notoriety as the ‘King of pale skin, the disintegrating nose and child molesting allegations,’ and admittedly, it was hard to keep that impression far from mind given Jackson’s appearance on film. His face was, in a bizarre case of life imitating art, the uncanny resemblance of his Thriller character, and he seemed preposterously thin – especially when juxtaposed with the array of beefcake dancers around him.

But despite his now very obvious ill health, the occasional talking heads spouting praise, the director’s incessant ass kissing and even some of Jackson’s trademark schmaltz, the vast majority of the film is Michael Jackson doing what he does best; in fact, doing what he does best, but in a way we have never seen before.

All of us have watched him aggressively tug on his crotch more times than we care to remember, but we have only ever seen it in a practiced, polished and perfected concert, or in an edited and airbrushed, multimillion dollar music video. This Is It is Michael Jackson before the final take.

And it’s this that makes it more interesting than the ‘live in the O2’ DVD that would have surely surfaced had the shows gone ahead. The footage in This Is It was never meant to be aired and so, with its the shaky camera work, poor lighting and half-caught conversations it has all the voyeuristic realism of a documentary.

For perhaps the first time we are watching Michael Jackson not trying to perform and entertain. He isn’t presenting a version of himself to the public, he is himself. And ‘himself’ comes across as a hard working, highly perceptive, tirelessly creative and surprisingly normal individual.

In this sense This Is It is a respectable tribute. Moreover, it makes it clear that the live show Jackson was planning would have been a breathtakingly brilliant extravaganza, which only serves to intensify the tragedy. But it is also fitting. For a man who lived so much of his life in a dream-world, it is the perfect, poignant finale; his greatest spectacle enshrined and immortalised in the collective imagination of his fans.

 

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