... because there might have been so much more. After the jump, notes about a film which marvelously promotes a concert and tour that will never happen.
NOTE: The material after the jump was written soon after I watched the movie on Tuesday night. A revised and expanded version, done for the Beacon Journal print editions, has been posted on Ohio.com and can be found here.
"Purity" is not a word I often associate with Michael Jackson, but it came to mind more than once tonight as I watched "This Is It" at the Cinemark Valley View. Because there was a purity, and a joy, at many points as Michael stepped from behind the carefully constructed and controlled facades he has had for years to sing and dance, unfettered, unpressured, with a delight and a skill that was a marvel to behold. It was in those moments that I put aside, at least briefly, all my concerns about Michael as a person, and admired the performer. Here was someone who at various points was Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire, Jimi Hendrix but was above all else Michael, a powerful stage presence, a memorable vocalist -- if not the king of pop, then at least a legend.
As has been reported, the film -- recorded during rehearsals for what was claimed to be his farewell tour -- has excised any footage which might reflect badly on Michael. Remaining are promises, both in his stagecraft and in the prepared video segments, of an extraordinary, enormous show covering his career from his Jackson 5 days through his great solo hits, with an awesome band and formidable dancers supporting him.
Remaining, too, is the image of someone who watched over every detail of the stage production, whose exacting standards extended to instrumental tempos, individual hand gestures, where a light might hit. Sometimes his instructions are not immediately clear, as when he talks about "The Way You Make Me Feel" having to "simmer." Other times they are crystal: "I want it the way I wrote it." Although he offers the spotlight to others at times, and punctuates his comments with "God bless you," he is still the man in charge -- and even director Kenny Ortega waits for Michael's approval.
Michael's attention is impressive but it is also cautionary. Because it is that very care, and his long history of trying to control how he is seen, that give pause to my wishing that this tour could have happened, and that I could have been at one of the concerts. I fear that Michael would have taken out, or over-polished, those moments onstage when he simply cuts loose -- for instance on "Billie Jean," the film's climax. That his urge for control would have overwhelmed his more pure love of music, and turned the shows into something grand but mechanical. And it is at those moments when I prefer the rehearsals we have to the concert that might have been.
So what, in the end, do we have here? We have a rather spectacular view of a Michael Jackson who was little seen in his final years, and a sense of tragedy not only because he is dead but because there was so much greatness obscured even when he was alive. Thinking back on this film a little over an hour after I have finished watching it, I dream not only of Michael back onstage, but Michael on a bare stage, with a microphone, a powerful band and his songbook, mining each tune for the happiness that he had when he first discovered, or sang, one of his tunes. The stagecraft is impressive, but it is nothing without the man in the middle.