The most mysterious period of George Michael’s life was the final one, the years he spent in his mansion in Goring-on-Thames, largely unseen by the outside public, following him falling out of a car in 2013. He’d mostly disappeared from headlines until the news of his death of natural causes at age 53 on Christmas Day 2016.
George Michael: Freedom, the Channel 4 documentary transports the viewer directly inside his seclusion—but in an odd way. Throughout the documentary, we see the back head of a man presumed to be Michael, in a well-kept brick manse presumed to be his, typing thoughts on a typewriter. The words are spoken by a narrator, also presumed to be him.
At the start of the film, Kate Moss sits in the stereo-pocked chair from the “Fastlove” video and announces that Freedom (the documentary) is Michael’s final work. He’d been putting the finishing touches on it in the days before his death. This, too, heightens the mystery surrounding the project: Michael apparently wanted fans to tour his life, but also wanted to keep his latter-day self at a distance. Such coyness is a complication—but not contradiction—of the portrait that emerges of Michael as the architect of his destiny and the controller of his narrative.
When the credits roll to the sound of Chris Martin covering “A Different Corner,” at the end of the list of the film’s celebrity contributors—including Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Mary J. Blige, Ricky Gervais, Cindy Crawford, and the other four supermodels of his “Freedom! ’90” video—there’s a surprising entry: “Simon Rutter as George Michael.” An actor, it turns out, plays the elder Michael throughout this slick and tantalizingly unrevealing biography of a pop great. (the voiceover, at least, is from Michael himself.)
Documentary covering the span of his career, but concentrating on the formative period in the late Grammy Award winner’s life, leading up to and following the making of his acclaimed album ‘Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1’ and the subsequent High Court battle with his record label that followed, while also becoming poignantly personal about the death of his late partner and first love, Anselmo Feleppa. Filmed before Michael’s untimely passing, the film is narrated by him, who was heavily involved in the making of it.
What I really liked about this documentary was the insight we got, from George himself, into the beautiful lyrics that he wrote and performed, especially after the death of his first real love, Anselmo. George told us what inspired his song writing before and after his meeting with Anselmo and he showed us, with the help of musical clips, how his various emotions manifested themselves through song. His happiness when he met Anselmo, his sadness when Anselmo died and when his mother died of cancer, his anger when Sony refused to let him go and his humour after his unfortunate encounter in a Beverly Hills loo, Ricky Gervais made us laugh with his take on the affair. Elton John seemed to understand George well and perhaps surprisingly, Liam Gallagher too.They, along with a few other celebrities, helped us get to know George better and by the time Chris Martin started to sing “A Different Corner”, his tribute to George at the Brit Awards, there were tears in my eyes. I met George Michael many years ago and we all knew he was gay, but most of all it was obvious that he was a very kind person and very vulnerable, which comes across during this fine documentary. You will laugh and probably cry when you watch Freedom, I dare you not too!
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