ma ma say, ma ma sa, ma ma ku sa

three beats on a snare drum . . . then into a funky bass beat.

that’s how the beginning of michael jackson’s “wanna be startin’ something” begins – if you know the song, then you’ll instantly recognize those three drum beats.

appropriately enough, wanna be startin’ something is the first song in the new movie “this is it” which features footage from the practices that were going to lead up to michael jackson’s last concert series to be held at london’s o2 arena, well right now.

first a little background – i don’t know if i would describe myself as a michael jackson fan. like countless other people, i own many of his albums (thriller on vinyl, bad on cassette, off the wall, history and the essential on both cds and downloaded) and 99% of his pre-black or white catalog will get me off my butt and grooving. but i also grew up right in the time of his strangeness – from neverland ranch to his marriage to debbie rowe to his strange public appearances, ever-worsening plastic surgery; and then of course there was the accusations and the child molestation trial.*

each of those public forays, he appeared confused, weak, strange, fragile and unaware of who he was, what he was doing and his place in the world. he became much more than the most gifted pop musician of all time, he became the defining character of the weird weird celebrity world and somewhere, the music was overlooked.

and it was great amazing music. the entire thriller album is pop music genius. off the wall is funkiness with the groove of disco. bad has a number of excellent tracks.

so if you are a fan of jackson’s music, it’s nigh impossible to see this movie and not start tapping your foot or smiling or grooving in as he hits familiar pleasure spots with mega hits like thriller, human nature, beat it and smooth criminal. additionally, you get to see an unpolished behind-the-scenes michael who, like his dancers and singers and musicians, are really working incredibly hard to pull of an entertainment spectacle. and you can see just from the practices that these shows would have been the standard with which all future concerts would have been judged.

but more than the music, the movie shines a spotlight back on jackson the performer, and forgets (or conveniently edits out if you believe the conspiracies) jackson the strange, jackson the deviant, and all we are left with, through this movie, is memories of the music and the dancing. throughout the rehearsals, jackson is a focused driven perfectionist, always seeking to better create the show for the audience. hold the melody for two more bars here, let the mood simmer for 4 more counts there, slow the tempo down a little here. he’s not only the consummate showman, but he has worked hard on his craft and he wants to show it off to his fans.

the movie is both uplifting in that we get to see jackson at his finest once more, and sad, knowing what would’ve been had he not tragically overdosed.

*i don’t mean to brush over this or just ignore it, but the fact of the matter is i have no idea what happened in those bedrooms.

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5 Responses to ma ma say, ma ma sa, ma ma ku sa

  1. uzbekcelia says:

    Thank you for writing this review: I felt the same way when I saw the movie, so you’ve saved me the trouble! I came away impressed with how hard he worked, and surprised at how much rock there was in his music. The trifecta of his singing, dancing and songwriting talent will probably not be seen again in our lifetime. (Did you see this on DVD?!)

    The two comments I would add are

    (1) The thing about Jackson is that he held himself to his own classicness: he had his own style of dancing, singing and dressing, and he pretty much stuck to it. Unlike Madonna, who kept changing image styles/personas, Jackson was consistent. Even when his style seemed outdated, as other trends took over (grunge? baggy pants) he maintained his style: skinny pants, a little short, black leather shoes (never sneakers!), etc. It was a little odd to see him in baggy pants during one of the rehearsals, and then you realised you couldn’t appreciate the legwork of his dancing as much

    (2) I’ve long considered him to be at his most handsome when Thriller came out, before his burn accident: bright, kilowatt smile, full of promise. I never got used to seeing his face so blatantly altered, so fake and plastic. The squinty eyes, the womanly lips, the pale skin, sometimes he looked indistinguishable from his sister Janet! And the nose job, I always wondered if it affected his singing. Maybe people wouldn’t think of him as ‘Jacko the Wacko’ so much, if he had looked more like himself (well, with the plastic surgery limited to treating his burn wounds.)

  2. terence says:

    Saw it in the theater actually – Xintiandi UME Cinemas. When movies are out in the theater here, I usually go see them. So when presented with the option to see them in the theater, I usually will not pick the pirate option.

    The dancing was phenomenal – especially when you think that he was 50 when the rehearsals were going on. All of his backup dancers were young athletic kids in their 20s and he’s more than twice their age and he’s ahead of them the entire time.

    I thought the conventional wisdom was that he was trying to look like Diana Ross. The usual statement is “I liked Michael Jackson when he was actually black”

  3. WoAi says:

    No doubt, his passing was tragic and it makes me sad to know I will never get to see him perform live. But on the other hand, I never had any plans to go see him at the O2, probably because I assumed he’d still be around a while. Reminds me of one of his sister’s songs : (You Don’t Know What You’ve) Got Till It’s Gone.

    I’ll definitely try to get to see the movie if it’s still on.

  4. terence says:

    It’s currently 99 RMB at UME in Xintiandi (or maybe 99 was for the big theater).

    The O2 concerts were to have been his last performance ever . . . I guess until the next one.

    I wouldn’t have travelled to London to see him perform, but if he had come to Tokyo/Hong Kong/Seoul I probably would’ve tried to have go. I guess that makes me a fan.

  5. Pingback: I Love China » Blog Archive » WoAi Recommends …. Michael Jackson’s This Is It

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