03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Michael Jackson Still Had it at the End

to duck the trick-or-treaters on my block on Saturday night (Halloween induces a
bark-a-thon at my house), I escaped into the closest movie, Michael
Jackson's This is It.  I
expected nothing. Like everyone else, after Jackson died I watched
every person who ever met him once parade through Larry King Live
saying what a good person he was, and listened to Liz Taylor moan about
how she couldn't go on. While I never thought Michael Jackson was a
child molester, I wasn't a true fan, either. And I probably believed he
couldn't make it through fifty shows on the drugs he was on.

now question my own judgment. The very first show would have
electrified the world and given Jackson the adrenalin to go on. The man
was a genius. Coming into rehearsals, he clearly knew every song, every
move, every note. It was as if the music poured out from inside his DNA
, where it always lived and now was being given the chance to express.
Having never been anything but a performer, Michael Jackson was still a
performer at 50, capable of astounding dance moves and exquisite
timing. Not only that, but at 50 he was happy to be in the role of
mentor to the younger dancers and musicians, rather than a competitor
with them. He clearly wanted to give them an opportunity to shine. The
audience would have loved him. Did he do every acrobatic move that the
younger dancers did? Of course not.  But he reminded me of a great
tennis player who can win a match through superior strategy even though
athletically past his prime.

At the rehearsals, he seemed
comfortable with the show. Never irritable on camera, he appeared
gracious and loving. By the time they were set to go to London, he had
accepted the cast and crew as family, and they gave him the adulation
he deserved. Many of them had traveled around the world to audition for
the show. It's sad they never got the chance to hear the applause. And
it's sad Michael never got a chance to do even one show, because the
sets, costumes, lighting, and graphics would have been out of the
ballpark.  Go see this movie to see what they were working on; this
production would have been worth the ticket price even if the
understudy went on for Michael Jackson.

The footage was shot
with two cameras, fortunately in high definition, but nothing like a
finished movie. It was meant to be for Jackson's personal archive, and
it is truly a documentary -- it documents the rehearsals without window
dressing. In it you can see the mutual respect between Kenny Ortega,
who directed the movie and co-directed the show with Michael, and
Michael Jackson. Clearly they are used to working together, and they
help each other out. I especially liked it when Ortega told Jackson to
"hold on" to the bars on the cherry picker the first time Jackson took
a ride on it. Jackson seemed fearless, wanting to take it higher and
sing while doing it, but Ortega only wanted him to take the ride and
test the safety.

Was Michael Jackson a sick drug addict? No way.
Did we, the public and the media, hasten the death of a man who felt
for the planet and wanted to deliver a message of love to the world?
Probably. We have a grim way of eating our public figures alive these
days. I'm sure Michael Jackson wasn't perfect, but neither are we.