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This is It: Michael Jackson's Transcendence

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As usual, I felt really confused when looking for a movie to watch this past weekend. I have a lot of thoughts about what's happened to movies in the U.S. -- the consequences of the multi-nationals taking over our industry and sucking it dry like so much else in this country (not to mention the world). But that wasn't what was bothering me this past Saturday night. I just wanted to see something that might surprise me a little and not disappoint me completely.

I still find fishing through the Web for movie info confusing and generally frustrating. I miss the days of those good old underground papers like The Village Voice giving me real data -- or a good piece of word of mouth (always the most reliable). So the fact that a friend said see the Michael Jackson documentary, This Is It, gained traction for me as everything on my Web search seemed increasingly unclear and almost sad -- such junk out there and it's supposed to be the time of the "serious (Oscar contending) movies".

So word of mouth -- that's what this little piece is. Go see This is it. To my utter surprise This Is It is one of the finest and most powerful films I've seen in a long time.

I was never a Michael Jackson fan. Not at all. When he was a child I found his music manipulative and muddy -- he seemed like an over-coiffed puppet. As he grew up he became equal parts scary and sad to me, not to mention wildly and crassly commercial. And then there were all the issues of the monster that seemed to emerge -- the baby out the window stunt, all those rumored boys in his over-sized bed, his strange home, his face -- a pop freak to the max, a ghoul.

So I went to see This Is It the way one might go see a horror picture, I suppose, except I hoped there might be some okay dancing, some bizarre, perhaps drug riven singing. What I encountered instead was an artist at the absolute top of his game -- and it is an astonishing game. He emanated Greek tragedy, Keats-like vulnerability, but also a top surgeon's drive and clarity. Plus, he wears wild, whimsical outfits which somehow suit him, elevate him.

There is a level of human beauty that blossoms here on the screen that is incontestable, even as the boy/man/woman's face is a mask of face lifts and skin-dye gone grotesquely awry.

And then I found myself literally weeping for his voice that had the depth and maturity of the finest and most complex wine, a Shakespearean wine that rose above the tragedy of what his life had become.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Amadeus, and this has the tone of that movie as towards the end Mozart (played brilliantly by Tom Hulce and directed by Milos Forman) addresses his inner demons and outer enemies with music and (in MJ's case) dance. And talk about dance -- Michael Jackson surrounded himself with the finest hip-hop dancers alive for this show. The film opens with these dancers (from all over the world -- many of them weeping with joy because they had been selected from hundreds of other dancers a la Chorus Line -- very strange for me at what appeared to be a cloying beginning) but not for one moment during the entire film did I watch any of these other dancers. My eyes were locked on Michael, every fiber of his body emanating feelings as deep as I've seen in any film.

And now he's gone. But the movie isn't. Don't miss it. As a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences I haven't yet been hammered with a campaign for This Is It to grab the documentary Oscar, probably because the "brilliant" studio guys think it's not "meaningful" enough. Funny how real art is never considered meaningful by the money guys until it's too late. So maybe I need to start that campaign myself.

Maybe... this is it.