You know, I really wanted to ignore all the Michael Jackson-related hoopla today, but fat chance. The title “This Is It” is distracting for a concert movie built out of Michael Jackson’s rehearsal footage; mostly it just makes me think of The Strokes, but that’s my problem. It is, nonetheless, a grim way to commemorate Jackson’s legacy; depending on how you feel, one final film could be a promise not to exploit his legacy Tupac-style. Or maybe you believe the exploitation happened long before Jackson died and it’s your moral duty to lead the investigative charge, in which case I have a Web site for you.
The folks at This Is Not It aren’t exactly promoting a boycott of the concert film, but something more muddled: “we can inform people and help them see the movie with different eyes.” Specifically, with “eyes” that recognize Dr. Conrad Murray — Jackson’s physician — is effectively a murderer for keeping him doped up, but also that “the true state of Michael Jackson’s failing health was being hidden from you by those who are making a profit from the screening of the ‘This is It’ movie.” These are fans so dedicated they have “testimonials” and claim exclusive inside info about how Jackson really felt. (In an irony too grim to be amusing, at the time I looked at it, the site’s GoogleAd was hawking a “Free Sex Offender Report,” a reminder that Jackson’s cultural legacy is by no means settled if Google has anything to say about it.)
But no matter where you stand, everyone’s got an agenda when it comes to “This Is It.” For Elizabeth Taylor, it’s “the single most brilliant piece of filmmaking I have ever seen.” For Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, it’s a finger-wagging chance to scold movie pirates: “If Sony released it only in the U.S. on Wednesday, by late Thursday it would be camcorded, uploaded on to the Internet and available free to anyone with a broadband connection.” I’m not a naïve Marxist or anything, but even though I understand corporations don’t operate pro bono, Lynton’s timing seems a bit tone-deaf by promoting the virtues of day-and-date on this particular occasion as opposed to, say, “The Da Vinci Code.”
Yet this is the kind of media anomaly that really won’t happen again for a long time. There were no cinematic Nirvana cash-ins when Kurt Cobain died, and it took John Lennon eight years to get his posthumous tribute. Admittedly, I didn’t grow up on MJ, but for those who did, it’s a one-of-a-kind event that’s worth noting because regardless of however the actual films plays, it’s going to touch a nerve with more warm bodies than any legitimate “movie” this year.
[Photo: “This Is It,” Columbia Pictures, 2009]