Gaining Fame the Old-fashioned Way, With Talent, Drive and Magic

We live in an age where someone can become the object of intense fascination and 24-hour-a-day “news� coverage for having the ability to father eight children, while having the personality and accomplishments of an eggplant.

   It is instructive, then, to be reminded that some people earned their fame through true talent, perfectionism, drive, and a magical otherworldly quality that is given to very few. “Michael Jackson’s This is Itâ€� could have been a macabre or maudlin retread of the months of tabloid coverage of Jackson's death, and it does have its sentimental moments. Instead, it is a hybrid of concert film and backstage documentary that demonstrates definitively what made him the “King of Popâ€� while revealing a few tantalizing glimmers of what we might like to believe is the “realâ€� Michael Jackson.

   The film, made from footage that was intended to be part of Jackson’s personal library, starts with passionate and teary encomiums from the young dancers and singers auditioning to be part of Jackson’s first tour in 10 years. Each one declares how he or she was inspired by one of his songs as a child and is now living a lifelong dream. Other than that, there are few talking head interviews, and none with the object of everyone's devotion. Instead, he is seen singing (mostly in half-voice to save his throat) dancing (often just marking his signature spins and kicks) and giving careful instruction to the performers and unseen technical staff, all of whom treat him with nearly obsequious respect. Nothing escapes his attention to detail — the bass line, the cock of a head, the exact moment a lighting cue changes — all must meet his exacting standards. “You have to let it simmer, let it bathe in the moonlight,â€� he says, in explanation of one timing change. Whether or not the crew understands this mysterious command, the end result seems to satisfy him.

   He is kind in his critiques, and generous to his extraordinarily talented co-performers, notably the young Australian guitarist Orianthi, who out-shreds Eddie Van Halen's licks on “Beat It,â€� her blonde ponytail flying. He repeatedly declares “God Bless Youâ€�  and “I love youâ€� to the adoring audience, and it’s clear they, his fans, are what motivates him.  Jackson was limited as a dancer and singer — his ensemble far outstrips his technical abilities, even at his peak — but he more than keeps up with them, especially when he sings “I Just Can't Stop Loving Youâ€� with a backup singer and really lets loose his vocals at last.

   Elaborate film clips made for the concert are woven into the performance: Jackson in a sharp suit, edited into a lengthy sequence using clips from 1940’s movies — he catches Rita Hayworth’s gloves, then runs from Humphrey Bogart, as a prelude to “Smooth Criminal.â€�

   But the most beautiful sequence of all takes place on  a set that looks like a contruction site with the dancers seen in silhouette, Manhattan's skyscrapers bathed in gold light behind them.   

   The behind-the-scenes workings of creating such numbers, the blending of technology and artistry, are seen only briefly. The legions of film editors, costumers, and builders are all seen glowing with joy to be part of a Jackson enterprise.

   So what new can be known about Michael Jackson now? This film may not give us the private Jackson, the father, the friend, a “relatableâ€� character like Jon or Kate.

   But what we see is the Jackson we need: the author of some of the most innovative, irresistable songs of all time. At age 50, weeks or days from death, that authority was as strong as ever. His face was unrecognizable from the young man who first created “Billie Jeanâ€� and “Man in the Mirror.â€�

   His body was frail, no match for the young men dancing behind him.  

   But he had more star power in one pointed toe than just about anyone else who ever took the stage, and this film is an entertaining and pleasurable opportunity to remember that.

“Michael Jackson’s This Is It� is playing at the Cineroms in Torrington and Winsted.

It is rated PG for suggestive choreography and scary images.

Latest News

Robert J. Pallone

NORFOLK — Robert J. Pallone, 69, of Perkins St. passed away April 12, 2024, at St. Vincent Medical Center. He was a loving, eccentric CPA. He was kind and compassionate. If you ever needed anything, Bob would be right there. He touched many lives and even saved one.

Bob was born Feb. 5, 1955 in Torrington, the son of the late Joesph and Elizabeth Pallone.

Keep ReadingShow less
The artistic life of Joelle Sander

"Flowers" by the late artist and writer Joelle Sander.

Cornwall Library

The Cornwall Library unveiled its latest art exhibition, “Live It Up!,” showcasing the work of the late West Cornwall resident Joelle Sander on Saturday, April 13. The twenty works on canvas on display were curated in partnership with the library with the help of her son, Jason Sander, from the collection of paintings she left behind to him. Clearly enamored with nature in all its seasons, Sander, who split time between her home in New York City and her country house in Litchfield County, took inspiration from the distinctive white bark trunks of the area’s many birch trees, the swirling snow of Connecticut’s wintery woods, and even the scenic view of the Audubon in Sharon. The sole painting to depict fauna is a melancholy near-abstract outline of a cow, rootless in a miasma haze of plum and Persian blue paint. Her most prominently displayed painting, “Flowers,” effectively builds up layers of paint so that her flurry of petals takes on a three-dimensional texture in their rough application, reminiscent of another Cornwall artist, Don Bracken.

Keep ReadingShow less
A Seder to savor in Sheffield

Rabbi Zach Fredman

Zivar Amrami

On April 23, Race Brook Lodge in Sheffield will host “Feast of Mystics,” a Passover Seder that promises to provide ecstasy for the senses.

“’The Feast of Mystics’ was a title we used for events back when I was running The New Shul,” said Rabbi Zach Fredman of his time at the independent creative community in the West Village in New York City.

Keep ReadingShow less