Sunday, November 1, 2009

This is It!

I saw Michael Jackson's This is It today. Wow. Forget any opinion you have about Michael Jackson, the man. This movie is all about Michael Jackson, the artist, and he was an incredible artist.

The creative process is fascinating to me. My favorite blogs are writers' blogs where they talk about process. I love Top Chef and Project Runway for the same reason. You see creative people thinking out loud. This is It is a feast for anyone interested in the creative process. You get a behind the scenes look at everything from the dancers' auditions, to musical rehearsals, to the making of the short films that accompany every song in the show.

Michael surrounded himself with amazing talent, and he was generous in showcasing it. He let his dancers shine. He reveled in his musicians ability to jam. He let one of his back-up singers have the spotlight when they sang "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." And it was obvious the dancers, singers, and musicians wanted to live up to Michael's high standards.

The dancers all had stars in their eyes. Several of them broke down in tears in interviews between rehearsals. This break was career-making for them. You couldn't help but feel their joy or smile at the "holy crap, I'm dancing with Michael Jackson" expression on their faces.

The musicians had nothing but respect for Michael. One grizzled old guitar player said, "So many pop artists don't know music. Michael knows music, and no one understands his music like he does. We're creating genius stuff here." Watching Michael work, you believe it.

My favorite thing about the movie was watching Michael turn every song into a story and weave a narrative between the songs. He understood pacing. He knew the moments between the beats were as important as the beats themselves. He stopped the whole production when he felt the opening to "Smooth Criminal" was moving too fast. "We have to let it simmer," he said. Later in the show, he insisted silence would be more dramatic than than the rumbling noise the director wanted to use. He was right.

As much as I loved the movie, it left me a little sad. Michael came alive when he performed. Early on, you could see the joy in his face when he sang and danced. The music lived in him. In the later footage, Michael was tired, almost haggard. In a full dress rehearsal for "Thriller," he needed a crew member's help to keep his footing on the hydraulic stage. You never quite forget you are watching him put together a show that will never be fully realized.

I recommend the movie to anyone who appreciates the creative process. Even more, I recommend the movie to anyone who loves Michael's music. The soundtrack to this movie is the soundtrack of my high school and college years. I could have closed my eyes and remembered specific events in my life as I listened. Except I couldn't close my eyes.

It would have been a great show.

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