Kenny Ortega knows how to couple movies and music and the stage. Having choreographed Dirty Dancing (1987), and directed all three instalments of the High School Musical franchise (2006-2008), this is a man who recognises the power of music and dance when brought to the big screen.
Ortega has acted as stage director large-scale tours and has directed the music videos of many a fine musical artist. The list of people he has collaborated with during his career ranges from Madonna to Miley Cyrus. However, Ortega built up a special, working relationship with the late Michael Jackson, after creating both Jackson’s Dangerous and HIStory World Tours. It is no surprise then, that Jackson called upon Ortega to help him create what would have been the most important set of shows of the fifty-year-old King of Pop’s career.
In Michael Jackson’s This Is It (2009) we are given front-row seats to the show that never was, and are treated to a rare insight into the approach Jackson took to his work. Ever the perfectionist, Jackson repeatedly insists that details are tweaked to his liking, whilst remaining ever gracious and polite. “I’m asking with the love,” he says at one point – this was his way of letting his crew know that he meant no disrespect.
Ortega is featured heavily in this picture, and is, in turn, as courteous and respectful when addressing Jackson; calling him “Sir”, carefully wording his questions and responses with the right vocabulary, and exchanging terms of affection with the singer throughout the documentary. Their friendship was undoubtedly a special thing, as well as the magic of their professional teaming.
This Is It is obviously far removed from the usual cinema fare. Being a documentary, and one that strives to show you what this concert would have been like, it is a truly unique experience. What you take from it as viewer (and, indeed, listener) is that Jackson was an artist who still had so much more to give; who, for a man of fifty, still had the moves and the voice to back up his celebrity status. In watching this film, you are glimpsing magic, and all tabloid speculation is forgotten. It is written on the faces of the dancers hired for the show – they are in the room as this wonder is happening before their eyes, and they KNOW how lucky they are to be witnesses to it. Also, it is in those tiny moments that let us know Jackson was satisfied in his work – look for the smile which crosses his face just before the lights fade after They Don’t Really Care About Us. It is the stuff goose pimples are made of.
What this film achieves is to successfully place us, the audience in that room as well. Your gaze will be fixed, your ears pricked, and you will be drawn into a world which sadly no longer exists. This Is It is a movie to be savoured for its originality, cherished for its honesty, and appreciated for its tribute to Michael himself. He announced the O2 shows as his “final curtain call”. He could not have known just how final it would be. However, even death has not stopped him from showing us what he had in store for us.
This Is it is an essential watch for any die-hard Michael Jackson fan, for anyone who has an appreciation for his music, and for anyone with a desire to see true artistic genius at work. Whilst uplifting and awe-inspiring, it will beg the sorrowful question: Are we likely to see a talent as raw and as rare as this emerge ever again?
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