We all know the story, there was no escaping it during the summer, Michael Jackson the King of Pop died on June 25th, 2009. What we didn’t know, at least up till now, was what the man himself would have been like had he lived to perform the series of 50 concerts in London’s O2 arena, from July 2009 to March 2010. In the press conference at their announcement Michael called them his final curtain call, and it is perhaps fitting that a documentary showing his rehearsals, for those self-same concerts, has now been released immortalising his memory.
The film itself has been assembled from rehearsal footage from April through to June of 2009 and captures a man completely in control of his surroundings. Here Michael is show to be a true perfectionist, micro-managing almost every aspect of what was set to be a monumental stage show. He corrects song timings, refines cues, and works with the musical and dance directors to get everything as close to his vision as possible. The actual director of the stage show Kenny Ortega, who directs here and was choreographer on Dirty Dancing, almost seems to pander to Michael, showing who had the true control. Michael is energetic and while the voice is nowhere near his best the moves are certainly still all present and correct.
Visually the movie intercuts rehearsal footage with cast interviews and videos shot to be accompaniments to some of MJs biggest hits. The video for Thriller sees the creative team refilm scenes from the iconic music video in 3D, and the whole thing was designed in such a way to interact with the audience and the performers on stage. The video for Smooth Criminal was easily my favourite though, as it showed a fun side of Michael, interspliced as he was with screen legends Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart in order to give the production a 1920’s gangster feel. Some of the hand-held camera-work jars at times but always your attention is drawn back to Michael as he shimmies, shakes and sometimes convulses his way across stage and screen.
All the big numbers are here ranging from Gotta Be Starting Something to the latest release This Is It which plays over the closing credits. As a result the soundtrack for this movie is incredible. Jackson, the consummate performer, pulls acappella moments and add bits and pieces here and there to embellish his tracks. the guitars even get in on the act with a crazy duelling guitars section. Everyone on show draws their inspiration from Michael and they all seem to genuinely feel and care for him. What is very evident even from the get-go is that had the shows in London taken place they would have been the greatest shows on Earth, part rock concert, part Riverdance.
The film in many ways reminds me of Lost in La Mancha, the story of the ill-fated Terry Gilliam adaptation of Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote. This is partially because I am hugely fond of that movie, but mostly because it too was meant solely as a documentary project but turned out to be the only end product of what would otherwise have been a great production. The key here is the minimal amount of cameras. This allows a much more intimidate look at the man and the mechanisms behind him.
The best music documentary of all-time? It’s close at times, but ultimately it, like its subjects short life, is unfinished, raw. What we are left with is an awe-inspiring, truly poignant reminder that the world has lost one of it’s truest entertainers and probably the finest solo artist in the last 30 years.