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They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Comeback vision relies on love and art, not life, for magic

When you're Jheri curl deep in the creative process toward Michael Jackson's comeback, it's difficult to fathom the show won't go on.

You believe it could happen as much as the dancers, the musicians and the 50-year-old man himself. You're invested in the steam of The Way You Make Me Feel, the message of Earth Song, the drive of Billie Jean, the "simmer," Michael's subconscious smiles as he remembers the electricity of a live audience...

Then, after two hours of thrill, reality rolls in with the credits: the optimistic young dancers have lost the job of their careers, the King of Pop is gone, and the show's director spent four months with 80 hours of footage of his late friend to give us a taste of this one-of-a-kind artist's final dreams.

I would have loved this movie had it been five minutes long. I'm an 17-year fan. Moviegoers who don't like live shows or Michael's music will be bored.

But if you've ever felt awed by the talent of this man, intrigued by his showmanship or moved by his jams, go.

The film's footage was recorded exclusively for Michael's personal library, we learn, and wasn't meant for our eyes. Knowing that makes the following moments feel oddly prolific, and frames the rest as a rare, honest portrait of the eccentric superstar.

But director Kenny Ortega's tasteful compilation does not exploit Michael's death a moment. Emotional bits feed on pure joy. Ortega's voice often booms from the control room, making sure his performer feels equipped to do his job. And for his difficult life, Michael is silly, gentle and humble, one moment demanding a certain rhythm to fulfill his vision, the next saying "it's all for love, L-O-V-E," and completely genuine.

Anyone wanting a freak show will not see one here. The film is driven by the music itself in its naked rehearsal form: a Jackson Five medley, Wanna Be Startin' Something, Human Nature, Thriller, and so on, merely touching on later, less successful works for the diehards.

The artist had been seeing this vision for years as he raised his children, watching the world spinning without him in the spotlight. Now Ortega, who saw it through Michael's eyes, passes the vision to his fans through digital renderings, costume and stage show discussion, and 3D clips filmed for the screen onstage.

The ease in forgetting the show won't happen means Ortega did his job.

Perfectionist Michael wouldn't have wanted the world to see him perform anything short of 100 percent. But his estate and his fans hope he'd understand. When he turns on the dance, even his creme-de-la-creme dancers go crazy. And as often as he conserves his vocal cords - begging the crew's understanding, please - MJ sends his voice soaring into the rafters as it used to, as so few popular voices do these days, hitting each note with love and anticipation of a new audience.

I do believe this is his comeback still.

-- Sandra M. Klepach,


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