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Michael Jackson fans glimpse the man they miss in 'This Is It'

October 28, 2009 |  3:48 pm


When Michael Jackson died in June, pop music lost its  last global megastar. But according to 12-year-old Sean Davis of Watts, who attended one of the first Tuesday night screenings of the new tour rehearsal movie, "Michael Jackson's This Is It," the death of the groundbreaking performer robbed the world of something more immediate.

"We're missing that move," he said, cutting a nifty rendition of Jackson's signature moonwalk across the floor of the AMC Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15 theater. "Music's boring without him. We miss him."

Comprised of footage shot from rehearsals for Jackson's planned run of comeback shows at London's O2 arena, "This Is It" offers a glimpse of a spectacle that never materialized in life. Some supporters used the Tuesday opening of the movie as an occasion to assert how personal their connection was to the man who was possibly the most famous musician on the planet.

"I want to get my opening night concert -- I was supposed to be there," said 21-year-old Cassandra Pertusio outside the downtown L.A. Regal Cinema. Dressed in a homemade Jackson T-shirt and sporting several tattoos of the singer (including his face on her shoulder and his signature on her arm), Pertusio had tickets for the opening night of the O2 shows as well as the last three dates, for which she took out loans totaling $20,000.

Though she lives in Tampa, Fla., she's flown  to L.A. multiple times since the singer's death. In July, she traveled to the city in the hopes of attending Jackson's memorial service; this week, she came for the premiere of "This Is It."

"That's how much I love him. He was more of a father to me than anyone else was," Pertusio said.

But for L.A.-based Jackson fans, who have had more opportunities than most to participate in his public mourning, the opening of "This Is It" seemed less of a chance to grieve a favorite artist's death than to get a last glimpse inside his ambitions for pop.

"I've been a Jackson fan since I was 5 years old, and I always thought he was immortal," said 47-year-old Lola Anderson of Chesterfield Square, whose son Nickolas Anderson had taken her to the Magic Johnson Crenshaw for the 9 p.m. screening of "This Is It." "I hope this movie shows something about his craft. You never see how he interacted with people as a boss. Of all the years I've watched him, I've never seen him like this."

Across town at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, fans reported that they were left with a vivid impression of Jackson's brilliant showmanship after watching the film. .

"The production values of the shows were going to be amazing," said 26-year-old Maricela Schiffman from North Hollywood.

She was particularly impressed by the new take on the "Thriller" zombie dance sequence that, it seems, was going to be projected in 3-D at the shows. "You saw the potential of what could have been, which kind of made you go, 'Aw, rats!' But to glimpse it was a privilege."

For all of Jackson's troubles in the public eye and the many lavish memorials since his death, perhaps the most important things fans gleaned from "This Is It" were things they might not have seen despite his constant presence on radio, TV screens and magazines: an idea of how he was to work with and what it might have meant to know him as a person.

"You always think that money is insulation from pain, but it never eased his pain," said Anderson. "We all know now what kind of pain he felt, and we can all empathize with him."

-August Brown and Gerrick Kennedy

Photo by Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times