Work and Soul in Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Portrait of Michael Jackson by Andy Warhol

Portrait of Michael Jackson by Andy Warhol

It says a lot that even while its principle star struggled to conserve creative energy and was simply "warming up" for the actual live performance scheduled to follow, Michael Jackson’s This Is It snagged the October 30 weekend box office in the United States with $21,3000,000. It says even more that just two weeks after its opening, as of November 12, 2009, the movie has played in 3,481 theaters worldwide and generated just under $1 billion in ticket sales.

At this point, going by the numbers alone, This Is It ranks second among the top-grossing music concert movies only to 2008’s Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tours. However, the latter film accumulated sales over a run of fifteen weeks. Compare that to the former movie’s much shorter run and you have the basis for arguing that This Is It in less than a single month has become the number one music concert film in movie history.

The Human Nature of the Dance

With a brilliant fusion of rehearsal performances for sixteen songs and samples from numerous others, absorbing video footage, and informed commentaries, the rockumentary delivers everything those hoping to attend Jackson’s "comeback" concert could have hoped for with the principle exceptions being two things: Jackson’s flesh and blood real-time presence and body-to-body contact with throngs of screaming fans.

This Is It opens to an image of dancers who are not yet in musical motion. Later in the film, viewers will see their bodies at times ferociously animated or seductively elegant. At other times they will form part of a privileged audience watching a master showman at work. As director Kenny Ortega puts it, "the dancers are an extension of Michael."

For the opening we get their faces, voices, and emotions as they speak briefly about the personal journeys that have brought them to this historic event: the much buzzed-about rehearsals for the King of Pop’s planned final concert tour.

One dancer says, "I’m excited. You have inspired everything in my life, my energy. You’re why I dance."

Another: "I wanted to dance. That inspiration came from you. And you’ve inspired me and given me a reason to want to inspire others."

And another: "I’ve kind of been searching for something to shake me up a little bit, and give me a, kind of a meaning, to believe in something, and this is it."

Some of the dancers can barely speak because they cannot believe where they are and that their names are now associated with a man whose blood, sweat, and soul have been defining elements of pop culture since they were born. When they do speak, often they express gratitude for an opportunity that would not exist if the famous "Man in the Mirror" had not challenged himself at the age of forty-nine to tap once more into the seemingly eternal fountain of creative brilliance that allowed him as a child to blast through the world of entertainment like a comet of visions that only blazes through the Milky Way every other century.  

Michael Jackson and This Is It dance troupe.
(AP photo by Sony)

The expressed gratitude is not sycophantic in any way. They comprise a natural response to Jackson as a cheerful giver who, seemingly through his own eyes, was never able to give too much or even quite enough. It, the gratitude, is also very natural because these are, after all, dancers. Artists like MJ himself. And they have just found excellent employment during a horrifying recession.

For these particular dancers, even more important than the promise of a better-than-decent gig in a field where plum gigs rarely come along, is the miraculous chance to work with and learn from a legend, someone whose genius could add a greater luster to their talents for the rest of their working dreaming dancers’ lives.

Please Click Here for Work and Soul in Michael Jackson’s This Is It Part 2

 by Aberjhani


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