Who would have thought that the swansong of the greatest performer on earth would be delivered posthumously? Shot by concert promoter AEG Live, with direction by his show producer Kenny Ortega, and condensed from more than 100 hours of rehearsal footage for the series of concerts Michael Jackson was preparing just before his death in June, This Is It — at times funny, surprising, even painful to watch, but ultimately inspirational — gives us a glimpse of the show that should have been.
As with every famous death, conspiracy theories abound and in Michael Jackson’s case, it was rumoured that he was being over-worked and exploited to his eventual collapse. But while he did indeed look painfully thin, the 50-year-old seemed to be anything but dragging his feet to work. He did not sing to full ability for preservation purposes, but he moonwalked, jumped and danced with the energy of one without a care in the world. And his face, while not the best advertisement for his plastic surgeon, seemed full of life and determination. He corrected, encouraged and reassured his co-workers, an elite team of hand-picked dancers, musicians and technicians as they worked through his hits such as ‘Smooth Criminal’, ‘Beat It’, ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Earth Song’.
At the risk of sounding distasteful, perhaps it is best that the world saw This Is It in its making after all. Because the real show would not have captured the backbreaking diligence and earnestness with which Jackson worked in order to put on the perfect show for his fans. It would not have captured the consummate team-player he was, ever unrelenting in achieving the perfect pitch, yet never given to pomposity. Most of all, it’s a morbidly perfect exit strategy for someone who otherwise would have to contend with the brickbats no matter how well he did.
While questions about his personal life and morality will never be answered in this lifetime, neither will we soon seen another talent as singular as his, and that’s primarily what This Is It wants to show the world. What a concert it would have been. Rest in peace, MJ.