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Film, CDs, Books Help Michael Jackson Live On

Of the Oakland Press

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The King (of Pop) is dead.

Long live the king — and he seems to be doing just that.

Like other pop culture icons who have passed away before him — Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon, to name a few — Michael Jackson has only become more popular in death than he was in recent life. That started right away, when some 2.3 million Jackson tracks were downloaded in the week after his June 25th death. The former Motown prodigy also logged the top nine entries on Billboard magazine’s Top Catalog Albums chart, while sales of his videos soared 2,000 percent.

That posthumous product rollout continues this week, when the documentary “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” opens on Wednesday for a two-week theatrical run, accompanied by a soundtrack album featuring Jackson hits, demo recordings and the previously unreleased title track.

The film — culled from 120 hours of footage from rehearsals in Los Angeles for a 50-show run Jackson that was set to launch in July at London’s O2 arena — is already a hit even before the first reel screens. Fans lined up for advance sale tickets on Sept. 27, and according to Sony Pictures, which reportedly paid $60 million for the rights to “This Is It,” more than 30,000 tickets were scooped up in London within the first 24 hours, while a Los Angeles advance screening sold out of its 3,000 tickets in minutes.

Some industry observers have predicted “This Is It” will take in $250 million in box office receipts during its first five days, flying past the $203 million mark made by Batman sequel “The Dark Knight.”

Kenny Ortega, the choreographer who was producing the “This Is It” live show and directed the film, calls it a fitting tribute to Jackson and the project they were working on together. In a statement, he said that the film “will show Michael as he truly was, creatively involved with every aspect of the production, from the staging and choreography, to the music, lighting, production design and conception of the original short films and video backdrops.

“‘This Is It’ was Michael’s last theatrical work, and although it was still a work in progress, I think the footage will show that the process was something that Michael deeply enjoyed.”

As with many things in the Jackson world, however, the project has not had an entirely smooth ride.

Some media commentators and critics have questioned whether “This Is It,” which shows a healthy and engaged Jackson preparing and rehearsing the shows, is designed to insulate entertainment firm AEG, which was promoting the London concerts, from charges that the company was pushing the artist beyond his capabilities. AEG officials and Sony executives have dismissed that notion.

Meanwhile, after the “This Is It” song was released and billed as new for the concerts, Paul Anka revealed that it was actually a song he and Jackson wrote in 1983, intending it to be a duet for Anka’s “Walk a Fine Line” album. Jackson opted out, and the song, then titled “I Never Heard,” was later given to Puerto Rican pop singer Safire in 1991.

Anka has received co-writing credit and half the royalties, and he still owns the original recording of the duet version of the song. The version of “This Is It” in the film and on the soundtrack, meanwhile, was constructed from a demo featuring Jackson’s voice and a piano.

“This Is It” is expected to be available on DVD, with additional footage — including the filmed reaction of the cast and crew of the stage show when they learned of Jackson’s death — shortly after the film leaves theaters.

There will be other Jackson material rolling into stores as well. Just out is “The Remix Suite,” featuring a dozen Jackson and Jackson 5 tracks re-done by hitmakers such as the Neptunes, Stargate, Frankie Knuckles and others; it was preceded by four digital EPs. Motown Universal also recently released “The Jackson 5 Ultimate Christmas Collection,” while “I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters,” a new collection of 12 vault recordings, is due out on Nov. 10.

A slew of books also have been published since Jackson’s death, including “The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation” by Jackson friend and confidante Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and J. Randy Taraborrelli’s rushed update of his 1991 biography as “Michael Jackson — The Magic, the Madness, the Whole Story.” “Michael Jackson: Before He Was King” features images taken between 1979-83 by Jackson’s personal photographer Todd Gray, while “Michael Jackson: Paper Dolls” is for those who like to play dress-up. And on Nov. 3 Rolling Stone magazine will roll out “Michael,” a coffee table book featuring new tributes by Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and others.

"Michael Jackson's This Is It" opens wide on Wednesday (Oct. 28). Check listings for theaters and showtimes.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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