This Is It: Portrait of the Artist as an Entertainer
I was not expecting to write this post.
Last night Pam, my mother, and I went to see This Is It at the Century Cinemas in the Del Monte Shopping Center. About fifteen people were in the audience. A young couple, a mother and her sister. Another young couple with their just-past-infancy child. A few older couples. Us.
My mother initiated the outing, much to my surprise. After my brother died, my mother became a vexing companion to take on trips at best.
One time my aunt, my mother, and I went to a Thai restaurant in Berkeley. After we were seated, my mother looked around and sneeringly classified other patrons’ dishes: “I’m not going to eat that.” “That looks nasty!” “Who eats that?” She pointed with her finger to indicate each dish she was talking about. My aunt and I should have taken this as a cue for all of us to leave. Had we done so, we would never have experienced the embarrassment and shame which followed, feelings intense enough that remembering the event a decade later provokes those feelings again.
I reflected how uncanny was this branch of the many-worlds, this one where Michael Jackson’s corporal form had been surgically and chemically altered, postmodern technology transforming his body into a materialization of an invisible and monstrous existence rumored to be pervaded by criminal sexuality and considered to be promoting pathological celebrity. I speculated that the this-world passage of Michael Jackson, his visibly mutated form, assembled not only thousands of individuals into complex articulations of production, distribution, and exchange, but also gathered a Korean immigrant mother, her racially hybrid and medially dislocated son, and a culturally disaffected future daughter-in-law into an unlikely if actual audience whose peculiarity even purple prose can not exactly characterize.
I liked the film better than I expected. My mother did not fall asleep. Pam liked the film better than she expected. We three liked the film better than we three should have by any measure of what could be reasonably called likelihood.
The film conveys at its outset the admiration and respect Jackson’s enormous talent and unbounded humility inspired in his co-performers. In the scenes that follow, the edited footage constructs a portrait of the entertainer as a man possessing unerring musical intiution and flawless kinaesthetic instincts which, of course, is the partial purpose of this film.
I further didn’t expect the emergent meaning of the phrase this is it which signals at different times: a singular opportunity to perform alongside a figure made incomprehensible by a prodigious media system; love as an immediate and extensive dimension; a final opportunity to avoid the consequences of irreversible global warming.
Through all this comes the improbable figure of Orianthi Panagaris, a woman whose talent most certainly will sweep her to the top of rock-and-roll’s guitar virtuoso pantheon.