Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

This Is It & Hamlet (live)

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 5:15 pm—Film

This Is It (USA 2009, Documentary/Music), Director: Kenny Ortega

Hamlet (Broadhurst Theater, 2009), Writer: William Shakespeare; Director: Michael Grandage

I wrote a draft of this post when I got back from New York last November, but never got around to finishing it. A friend recently asked about This Is It, which is apparently coming out soon on DVD, so I figured it was time because the documentary is definitely worth picking up for a night in.

ST and I caught a cheap-Tuesday showing of This Is It the week before I left for New York. Directed by the legendary-to-me Kenny Ortega—he choreographed my beloved Dirty Dancing (see the Dirty Dancing review from September 2009)—This Is It features behind-the-scenes footage of Michael Jackson and his crew of dancers, musicians and other artists as they prepared for what was to be his final tour. Things I was thinking after seeing the movie: it does an amazing job of suggesting what Jackson’s final show would have been like; and it pays homage not only to his talent, but to his incredible star power.

This Is It opens with interviews of the tour’s dancers, many in tears over the opportunity to perform with MJ. We roll from there into a medley of rehearsal footage at all stages of undress—from a basic walkthrough of the steps, to what looks close to the awesome final product that almost was. There are incredible feats of talent in This Is It, not only from Jackson, who is uncannily in tune with every key and beat of his music, but also his backup performers. The tour would have featured some of the world’s best dancers and musicians; look for some standout guitar solos in the film.

Ortega smartly stays away from the controversy around Jackson’s personal life and death. There are only minor hints of the star’s complicated inner dialogue, and bare glimpses that he might be somewhat out of synch with the world around him. Instead, the film focuses on paying a final tribute to what Michael Jackson brought to the world as a very gifted performer.

This isn’t an outstanding documentary in and of itself. But when you consider that the footage wasn’t intended for a feature film, and the incredible job the filmmakers do of capturing what the King of Pop’s swan song would have been like, This Is It becomes an opportunity not to be missed. I wouldn’t have been in the audience had Jackson’s tour made it to the stage. Now, having seen the making-of documentary, I’m genuinely disappointed that no one will ever see the real thing.

Speaking of star power and magnetic talent, I had the privilege of watching Jude Law perform Hamlet on Broadway while I was in New York. With This Is It fresh in my mind, I was all the more impressed by the effect Law had on the audience, and on the show as a whole. First off, he gave a wonderful performance. I’ve seen excellent film actors fall flat onstage. Maybe they’re accustomed to the short film takes and can’t maintain a consistent energy through the entire play, or maybe they simply lack presence. Other times, great stage actors can be a bit too theatrical for the unwavering intimacy of film. Jude Law doesn’t have a problem here; he’s excellent in both mediums. He had great presence, and projected and postured well to the audience. But he was always so convincing, I could imagine the close-up of his performance working very well on film.

This was a streamlined production of Hamlet. The sets and costumes were spare and dark, and the script was punctuated by a precise, minimalist score. Within that, director Michael Grandage made plenty of room to play on his lead actor’s star power. Taking artistic licence with Shakespeare’s script, the show opens with Hamlet crouched alone onstage, lit dramatically by a spotlight. He rises, leaves, and the play begins as it was written. It was a wise move on Grandage’s part to open with Law; had he not, the audience would have been too distracted to listen during the play’s opening dialogue, sitting on pins and needles in anticipation of the star’s entrance.

The director continues to make smart choices with his leading man throughout the production. When the ghost of Hamlet’s father speaks for the first time, Grandage points attention to the ghost by having Law’s back to the audience. Not only does it create dramatic tension by leaving the audience to imagine the impact of the ghost’s words on Hamlet, but it creates space to forget about the star for a few moments and really absorb the other actor’s performance.

If I seem to be overplaying the impact Law had on the theatre, I’m not. Every time he had a soliloquy, almost the entire audience was transfixed. I broke away from that enough to catch a glimpse of the people around me. They were mesmerized. When the curtain descended after the actors took their bows, most audience members bounded out of their seats, eager to return to the hectic New York City tempo. But then the curtains rose again to reveal Law standing alone, centre stage, and everyone froze on the spot, forgetting all else and managing only to stare and cheer. He was utterly magnetic. Even for someone who views that kind of thing with skepticism, it’s still quite something to behold.

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This post is dedicated to the fabulous FS, whose star is on the rise and who has always been a star in my world. Congrats on the off-Broadway debut!!

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