In the early hours, Michael Jackson fans gather to watch film of his last days

Singer's London fans view 4am screening of This Is It as 19 cities host simultaneous premieres

It was fitting that this could not be an ordinary premiere. At 1am, a specially invited UK audience became one of the first in the world to watch a film showing Michael Jackson's final weeks.

Then at 4am the public were allowed in for the first screenings – a weird time, by any standards, to be going to the pictures.

The timing was all part of the distributor Sony's strategy of making the film This Is It a cinematic event rather than another run of the mill release.

And while it was the early hours in London, it was 6pm in Los Angeles – where the Jackson brothers Jermaine, Marlon, Randy and Tito turned out – and 10am in Seoul as 19 cities hosted simultaneous premieres.

In London there was occasional whooping, some cheering and much applause for a film that was far from a warts and all documentary but showed the perfectionist Jackson doing what he did best – singing and dancing.

The film, distilled from 120 hours of rehearsal footage ahead of his planned 50 gigs at London's O2, could not disguise how strikingly thin and boney he was in the months up to his death.

Given the hour, it was not surprising that Leicester Square was not quite heaving with Jackson fans.

The time also affected the celebrity count. Organisers may well have been disappointed at a list that took in Lemar, JLS, Harry Connick Jr, Westlife, Peter Andre, Mel B, Abbey Clancy and Paul "Wherever I Lay My Hat" Young.

Few knew Jackson in person apart from Mel B – Scary Spice – who "met him very briefly in Germany". She said: "He was very humble, down to earth, sensitive. He was very, very sweet."

The film's director, Kenny Ortega, who was in charge of the O2 shows, said Jackson had been nimble, determined, fully in control of himself and excited about the shows, and the film showed all of that.

Ortega told the New York Times: "Was he slight? Yes. Was he frail? At times. But we had a very strong and excited, happy and determined Michael.

"He wanted to do this more than anything he's ever wanted to do, and he was involved in every aspect of this project. He was there, he was invested, and he wanted to do this. That's the truth. It really is."

But it is not the truth, according to a small number of hardcore Jackson fans who have created a website campaigning against the film, called This Is Not It, and handed out leaflets criticising the film.

The campaign's British spokeswoman, Mimi Flynn, told the Guardian the film did not paint an accurate picture of Jackson in the days before his death, aged 50, after a suspected heart attack on 25 June.

The LA coroner has blamed drugs the singer was taking, including propofol, a general anaesthetic he was using as a sleeping aid.

Flynn, from London, said she was one of a relatively small group of devoted Jackson fans who got to know him well over the years.

"The pressure of the shows was too much for him," she said. "He was human, he had weaknesses. He had huge problems with insomnia exacerbated by the anxiety and pressure of the shows."

Although not calling for a boycott of the film, she said Jackson would "cringe" at the idea of rehearsal footage being shown. "It's too soon," she said. "LAPD [the Los Angeles police department] are still investigating the death."

However, Jackson's friend Elizabeth Taylor used Twitter to sing the film's praises, getting around the 140-character rule by reviewing the film in 18 consecutive tweets including one that said: "It is the single most brilliant piece of filmmaking I have ever seen.

"To say he was a genius seems so little. I wish my vocabulary encompassed what I feel. I truly believe this film should be nominated in every category conceivable."

In truth that is not likely to happen. Jackson fans will appreciate flashes of his brilliance and, of course, be saddened that what could have been such a memorable series of concerts never happened.

The more agnostic will wonder what was left out and curl their toes at some of the more preachy, spread the love segments.

And then there will be the baffled, who can't see him as anything but Wacko Jacko. Even in death his power to split opinion seems likely to endure.


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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