When We Saw It! asked me if I would like to write a review of the film, This is It! I was thrilled, but not for the reasons you may expect. Not because I think of myself, in anyway qualified to critique a documentary film for it’s cinematography, editing, directorial skill, or sound engineering. Nor am I in any position to decide whether you should or shouldn’t go to see this film. Instead, it had everything to do with the 46 years I have spent as a die hard Michael Jackson fan.
As a small girl, I watched the Jackson 5, and wished I could sing and dance like Michael. He was so cool, so smooth. The way he would spin around and dip his hat like a grown-up in a little boy’s body was incredible. MJ, as Michael was later often known, was only six months older than me, yet he was light years ahead of me in cool. He was my first crush. Sitting on the floor watching him perform “ABC” and “I’ll Be There” while his older brothers backed him upwas amazing. This is it! captured some of that magic.
When This is It! came out in theaters I was unable to see it for reasons that are irrelevant, but I was determined to watch it when I had access to a quality sound system coupled with a good screen, and not on my laptop. That opportunity finally came, and I brought the DVD to a friend’s home who has 5.1 surround sound and a 48” screen. After dimming the room lights, and adjusting the volume, I was ready for the performance of a lifetime. MJ had never let me down.
First, the dancers who were selected for the tour were highlighted. They choked up as they described their reactions to getting news of their selection. They understood that not only was this a huge career opportunity. It was also the chance to work with a legend, and a great artist. Once again, I was left with a sadness, knowing the inevitable outcome to the story. What had each of these young people risked to come to this tour? To get so close to something, and then a phone call ended it all. Were they able to use this as a platform to find other work? I also wondered if they had known that this was going to be Michael Jackson’s final rehearsal, would they have dressed better that day? Would they have put on lipstick?
Michael was a teacher. His ear for music; his instinct for what would move his audience; his sense of rhythm were his gifts to his students – and he gave them freely. He respectfully encouraged and pushed his dancers and musicians. There was one young woman in particular, a lead guitar soloist, who was not hamming it up enough. MJ kept telling her that this was her time to shine. When she eventually got what he was telling her, she was remarkable. That gift will stay with her forever.
In one scene, Michael pauses right before the big crescendo at the end, and says to someone off camera in explanation of why he is singing the way he is, “I’m saving my voice”, and I almost started to cry. He then sang the ending beautifully, but not in the way I know he would have if he had known he was doing it for his fans. And, that is really what I would have to say about much of the music in the film. I loved every second of it, but I wanted him to belt out every song as if he were doing it for the last time – and he knew it!