FILM SYNOPSIS: This musical documentary by Kenny Ortega featuring Jacko’s final rehearsals is compiled from an estimated 80 hours of rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage. It spotlights the legendary entertainer as he prepares for his 50 sold-out shows at London's O2 Arena, which had been scheduled to commence in July 2009 before his untimely death in June at age 50. The 111-minute documentary includes interviews with collaborators and close friends. It is being released by Sony Pictures.
PREVIEW REVIEW: After seeing the film, I must admit, Mr. Jackson was absolutely magic on stage. No one had such hypnotic moves or glided across a stage quite like MJ. By film’s end, those at the press screening were transfixed; we simply did not want it to be over.
Understand, I’m more a Sinatra fan. An Elvis fan. A Roy Orbison fan. But the charisma Michael Jackson displayed on screen was palpable. I kept reminding myself, these were just rehearsals. I was saddened that all those connected with the show would not have their dreams realized. Everyone from the musicians to the dancers was nearly breathless by Michael’s mere presence. To be on stage with him seemed a dream come true for these devoted performers. They must have been devastated knowing that the artist they proclaimed as the King of Pop died only days before their dream was realized. And what a shame the world would not see this sold-out performance.
The technical aspects are top-drawer, the director’s (and editor’s) pacing is pitch-perfect. The production is also somewhat revealing, as we see Jackson not just as a frail, self-indulgent man-boy, but a seasoned musical veteran cognizant of each aspect of the stage production. There’s some “give peace a try” salutes, along with a mini-sermon about saving the planet, which always comes across as a shallow ‘60s Flower Power anthem. Then again, what’s wrong with a season of peace and tending God’s garden?
Many will maintain, and I’m not trying to change their opinion, that we shouldn’t support Michael Jackson because of his rather peculiar lifestyle. Here’s how I look at my enjoyment of an artist’s gift despite their human frailties. I use Frank Sinatra as an example. Though the Chairman of the Board’s lifestyle slants our views, (his personal anthem, “My Way,” is not what a Christian should use as a signature), it’s not his Ring-a-ding-ding behavior that attracted me to this musical artist. Trust me, after reading eleven books on the man, I'm not naive concerning his darker side. I take the positive he had to offer and reject his secularism. This I do for many people in the media who have touched my life in some way. As for his musicianship, he sang of love, romance and passion. I will remember Old Blue Eyes not as the archetypical saloon swinger, but as a man who faced life, tasted life and certainly enjoyed life.
If I can take away something positive from Frank Sinatra, why can’t I do the same with Michael Jackson?
Allow me to suggest some other memorable concerts available on DVD. (I’ll leave Bono and Miley to other aficionados.)
Roy Orbison & Friends: A Black & White Night, with Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, K.D. Lang, Tom Waits and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.
Frank Sinatra: A Man And His Music + Ella + Jobim. Sinatra did several one-hour televised concerts on NBC in the mid-‘60s. In my opinion this was his best. He gives a virtuoso performance of “Old Man River” that shows off his musical range and dramatic depth. Then during a medley with Ms. Fitzgerald, he steps back and takes a seat at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the audience while she performs a solo. This is how you know you’re good, when Sinatra is at your feet.
Bobby Darin: Mack Is Back. This was Mr. Darin’s last televised concert. He died at the age of 37 on the operating table after a life-long struggle with heart disease. He gave his all in this 1973 performance. I have it on video, but I believe it is also available on DVD. (If you really love me, you’ll get me a copy.)
Elvis: That’s The Way It Is. This originally came out in 1970, but in 2001, the documentary got a face lift. The two-disc special edition looks great, and the King of Rock N’ Roll gives a milestone performance. Oh, one word about that King-bit. It is reported that at one concert, some girls raised a banner declaring Elvis to be “The King.” He responded to the audience, “There’s only one King and that’s Jesus Christ.”