Sunday, November 1, 2009

Of 'This is It'

Despite all the media hype, Glasgow's welcome to MJ (or whatever is left of him) has been rather lukewarm.

I've always loved the man's work and have looked forward to watching him onscreen, so when I showed up in Glasgow during the very week of this movie, I had to go see it.

The movie is not a real 'movie' per se, it's just a collection of recordings of MJ's rehearsals for his supposedly-last tour. So, one must know the songs, dances and original videos to appreciate the mammoth efforts that were put in for this tour.

As I watched the man working behind-the-scenes, I was enthused to see the real person behind the personality. Somehow, it was like getting to know what it took to become a legend. The following are my conclusions:

1. Search for the very best professionals: There was a nation-wide hunt for the principal dancers for this tour. The auditions were massively attended, and MJ himself supervised the entire process. The whole idea was to identify those people who had 'the spunk' and 'pushed the boundaries', because that was what MJ was all about. Similarly, the vocalists and the orchestra team were geniuses. Once he selected his team, he spent plenty time and money to make sure they were physically and mentally in great shape.

2. Ability to 'really' involve people in his journey: MJ realised that his staff needed opportunities to showcase their talent. Though the whole show was about him, he needed to get the very best from his team. Hence he tailored the show to ensure that each instrumentalist had atleast one opporunity to shine, and to display hard-core talent. The final product was music quality beyond anyone's imagination.

3. Thoroughness: MJ's music director said in an interview that MJ knew every word, every musical note and every single rhythm of each song he recorded. He was an extremely hands-on guy, and was able to connect with each musician in his/her terms. For example, he would speak out the chords and notes to the guitarist and keyboardist, he would play the beats with his mouth to the drummer. He would sing high and low octaves with the vocalists. A lot of them said on interview that this level of thoroughness made him someone that 'could not be fooled, ever'.

4. Innovation: This one really takes the cake. MJ had re-recorded the videos of Thriller, Smooth Criminal and the Earth Song in 3-D. He even starred in the Smooth Criminal video. The final effect was that when MJ and his team performed on stage, the demons in Thriller (for example), would walk right out of the screen behind and into the audience ! Another interesting element was the use of pyrotechniques for visual impact. Chase scenes were shown using fireworks onstage. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

5. Painstaking attention to detail: This is similar to #3, but not quite. Though MJ knew his craft like the back of his hand, it was important to get every little element of the show in perfect order for his magic to happen. This meant stopping the song several hundred times over, and giving instructions - wait for my cue, fade the music to create a simmering effect, volume control and so on finally saying 'So let's do this one more time'. And this happened over and over and over again. Similar attention was paid to costume, gadgets (like cranes) used during the concert and so on.
and finally,

6. Leadership: In this context, I mean his ability to hold it all together. At any time, several hundred people were asking him questions ranging from trivial to strategic. He took his time with each one, did his homework and answered every question. He motivated the team often by helping them relax, using his oratorial skills to connect with them and letting them know that he valued their contributions. He positioned his role in such a way that others naturally wanted to give their very best to him.

Personally, I found the movie very good value for money. It was like watching the whole O2 show originally priced at £60 , at £4.90. Now that's a bargain.

PS: And I don't believe the 'sensitive' crap that the media comes up with when they talk about MJ. Though he was a humanitarian and has helped a whole lot of children enjoy this beautiful world of ours, he was by no means a silly, feminine, lovelorn person. What I saw on that screen was an astute businessman who was driven, had the talent and the guts to get what he rightly deserved: the title of 'the best entertainer of all time'.

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