Saturday, November 14, 2009

In which I watch Michael Jackson inspire a universe of creative people

Yesterday I took Menticia to see "This is It," the Michael Jackson farewell movie.

We were both rapt. For years I've only seen pictures of his plastic surgery ravaged face, seen him doing press conferences about his possibly obscene relationships with children, heard about his financial failings, seen him falling apart psychologically...

... but here, we saw him confident, incandescent, showing why he became such a super-star.

The movie was well edited and respectful, the music was realer and less processed than I expected, and Jackson himself was a powerhouse. His dancing, his singing, and the way he conceived the whole over-blown, miraculous spectacle made me think, over and over again...

... that he was exhibiting the divine spark. I don't necessarily believe in God (though I do give thanks regularly to nobody in particular when my life is going well and ask for strength and patience from nobody in particular when I'm at my wit's end) ...

... but watching Michael's frail frame bursting with disciplined, focused energy, energy that has inspired millions across the globe, made me feel there was something divine in him.

It continually amazes me to look around at humans - fallible, frequently misfunctioning jumbles of bones and flesh and mysteriously intertwined organs, preposterously animated from the world's dust - to see that, as fallible as we are, we can sometimes create wondrous things. We can be inspired beyond our basic needs for food, sleep, and the occasional scratch behind the ears...

... to think up and follow through on projects - music or dance or architecture or paintings or poetry or things so individual nobody else could have even conceived of them, much less brought them into the world - which then have the ability to illuminate and energize other people who may never have known or even seen us.

My favorite parts of the movie:
  • Watching the child-like tsunamis of enthusiasm the backup dancers and singers had while watching Michael, studying everything he did and knowing it was good;

  • Watching Michael explaining to his keyboard player, who was watching him like a hawk, how to play further behind the beat. He wanted the offbeats to lag, lag, almost too late. That's a hard thing for a trained musician to do. The result was fabulous;

  • Similarly, watching him ask for long stops and silences in his spectacle. He clearly reveled in the power of empty space.
And then, one day, each jumble of organs - which one could say never should have worked in the first place - stops working. The divine spark is extinguished. Michael, you tortured, brilliant spark - goodbye.


At 11:09 AM, Blogger Cap'n Sylvia Sharkbait said...

This is a fascinating post and wonderfully written. It's like a review and a beautiful eulogy. I had planned to pass over this movie, but now I think I'll go see it. Thanks!

By the way, your post on sopa seca de tortilla inspired last night's dinner...yummy! It was perfect for a chilly autumn night.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Hannah said...

I agree with everything you said, Ma. I also liked when the older Russian lady who was training the young hiphop dancers in some classical dance moves instructed them to grab their crotches at a different angle. She was totally unfazed by this vulgar move. She told them:

"Baryshnikov does it like this:" [she stretched out her arms to each side of her body, cocked her head, and leaned her torso arrogantly forward]

"And you do it like this:" [she grabbed her crotch]

"...but it's basically the same thing!"

(...i.e. I'm a man, here's what I've got!)

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Hannah said...

Oh, and I also loved how personal the show was - how intertwined with his body movements, as you mentioned.

You listen to the CD and think, "wow this music is so processed, where are the people in this?" (although I actually really like the music)

And then you watch him start rehearsing and he keeps telling people the ways in which it needs to be exactly like the CD, so the fans will be pleased (and he has the exact CD version playing in his head) ...

And yet the whole spectacle, all the machines and ridiculous props and the timing of everything is so entirely linked into his body - his physical cues, his dance moves. It managed to be incredibly personal, incredibly him, in spite of everything.

Also very moving - his relationship with the dancers who had grown up watching him and learned their moves from people *copying* him - now they get to go back and see the real thing. It made me feel something about the passing of the generations - one of those things that sounds very cliche but is rarely clear to the eye - that as his body was working less and less well, he could express himself through the people he was teaching and mentoring. Someone whose own time to do exciting physical feats is passing by can live on through his "children". Sort of like an older professor at Yale that I knew who has an entire shelf in a location of honor in his office for books published by his students.

Sigh. Still, a sad story. As Woody Allen once said, "better than to live on in the hearts and minds of one's fans is to live on in one's apartment."

At 5:18 PM, Blogger eilleen said...

I too went to see the movie. I went alone - nobody would come with me ... sigh. I loved it too. I also loved the Russian lady teaching the dancers how to grab their crotch. That was hilarious.

I loved how gentle MJ was with everyone. Like when he had that conversation with the music director about the sound of the music. The director was clearly getting a little upset telling him that if he (MJ) were present when they tuned everything up, maybe he'd get it the way he wanted it. Between lesser men, that would have ended up in an argument but there was no argument. He was a very gentle soul. It became clear very quickly to everyone in this world just what we lost when we lost MJ.

As long as the movie was, it seemed to end very abruptly. I guess the way MJ's life ended abruptly. I was stunned by it and frozen in my seat. That felt like goodbye.

At 7:43 PM, Anonymous novelera said...

Good to read a positive review of the movie. I'll consider it based on your blog remarks and the comments. I had thought it was pretty exploitative of his sad death when I heard about the movie, but maybe it's a fitting epitaph. And if his children benefit from the ticket sales, well that's more to the good.

At 9:22 PM, Anonymous ~susanlynn said...

Melinama~~~What a heartfelt , insightful review. Sandy posted on Caraycaray that she had seen the movie and liked it and recommended it to me. I can remember Michael as a very young, handsome, talented little boy singing with is brothers in The Jackson Five. Looking at that gentle face, noone knew the life of extremes that young boy would lead . Genius has its price, n'est-ce pas ?


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