Earlier this week, the promoter of [artist id="1102"]Michael Jackson[/artist]‘s 50-date “This is It” residency at the O2 Arena in London said there was ample footage of a Jackson rehearsal for the planned series of shows, and that he hopes to release them.
On Thursday (July 2), one week after Jackson, 50, died following cardiac arrest at a rented Los Angeles-area mansion on the eve of the July 13 start of the O2 run, MTV News obtained a clip of a rehearsal filmed just two days before Jackson’s sudden passing. And though it is just a 90-second glimpse of the singer performing the controversial track “They Don’t Care About Us,” the brief bit of film does appear to show Jackson in solid shape, stomping around the stage, apparently singing in full voice and energetically dancing with an all-male troupe of backup performers.
The footage, shot on June 23 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles — where a memorial service for Jackson reportedly will be held on July 7 — opens with Jackson performing some of his patented military-style, slow motion marching dance moves along with the male dancers, who are behind him on a slanted platform. It then cuts to the singer enthusiastically pulsating to a solo from his guitarist.
Jackson gives one of his signature “Oh!” exclamations as the track changes tempo to a rousing royal fanfare overlaid with a snipped of the “I Have a Dream” speech from the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. The singer and dancers straighten up and salute, then do a high-step march across the stage to a martial beat as Jackson does knee bend and shuffles in place alone center stage.
After what appears to be an edit, the sound of a car horn blaring overtakes the music, the dancers put their hands out in a stop motion and the tempo shifts once again into a spare, funky track to which Jackson does a subtle shoulder shimmy walk to, landing him at the lip of the stage. It’s clear the rehearsal is a casual run-through, as the dancers are wearing sweats and t-shirts and the typically meticulously dressed Jackson is clad in black pants, a grey jacket and a pattered red button-down shirt that is half-untucked.
Near the end of the clip, the car horn blares again and an unseen director says “hold for applause, hold for applause” and a look of what appears to be relief washes over Jackson’s face. While Jackson is hardly the frail, sickly performer that some reports have portrayed him as near the end of his life — with one observer on the set of the singer’s mysterious “Dome Project” saying the pop star was so weak he needed help descending steps — he doesn’t appear to be the whirling dervish of energy and jaw-dropping dance moves that he was in his prime.
Granted, at 50, Jackson was nearly two decades removed from his heyday and the footage was shot at a rehearsal, but given that it was less than two weeks before the beginning of a showcase that was meant to put the singer back on top, Jackson appears to be moving at a curiously deliberate pace in the brief clip.
The song featured in the clip appeared on his 1995 greatest-hits collection HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I and it was one of Jackson’s most controversial late-period releases thanks what some deemed its anti-Semitic overtones.
Among the lyrics were the lines, “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/ Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me,” as well as “Skinhead, deadhead, everybody gone dead/ Hit me, kick me, you can never get me,” which The New York Times said at the time could be interpreted as being “pointedly critical of Jews.”
Jackson denied the charges in a statement released at the time, saying, “The idea that these lyrics could be deemed objectionable is extremely hurtful to me, and misleading. The song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems. I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking.” He later apologized again and eventually re-recorded a second version of the song without the offending lyrics.
It has been reported that the London show’s promoter, AEG Live, has more than 100 hours of rehearsal footage that could eventually be culled into the singer’s first live CD/DVD set.
For complete coverage of the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit “Michael Jackson Remembered.”
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