This Is It
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Originally intended for Michael Jackson's personal library, and made during the rehearsals for the London concerts Jackson would never live to perform, This Is It is a restrained document of Jackson the professional musician, the perfectionist, the clotheshorse, and the consummate performer. Peppered by brief, pat testimonials from adoring employees, it is mostly recorded footage of hit songs rehearsed in their entirety, thereby acting as a sort of placebo for ticket-holders longing for closure.
Zooming in on Jackson re-rehearsing the six opening bars of "The Way You Make me Feel" with his keyboardist Mo' Pleasure, or testing the timing of his back-up dancers to a fraction of a beat, the film also shows us a conductor and magician in complete control of his art and personnel. Jackson is always surrounded by the arsenal of yea-sayers that extreme wealth affords; the documentary focuses on the precise mechanics and the extended chain of command of a Michael Jackson performance, as well as the immutable standards he expected of his performative extensions: the back-up band, crew, and dancers.
While those looking for insight onto the psyche of Michael Jackson in his last days (juicy slip-ups, the testimonials of confidantes) will not find it here, watching him kid-gloved by his managers, or seeing his brow wrinkle slightly under the pressure of pleasing his audience, instills in us a massive sympathy for this powerful but vulnerable man. We seem him skeletal and delicate, apologizing in a soft panic for his voice's frailty ( "I'm just trying to conserve my throat please") or worrying that the fans wont feel "nourished" enough by a song; these tiny moments reinforce the pity we've felt for him all along. The film is meant to be kind: it does show us an artistic genius who was clearly held hostage by his own perfectionism, as well as the real and imaginary expectations of his public.