George Michael: Freedom Uncut review – pop hero lets it all hang out
The impression you’re mostly likely to come away with about George Michael after watching this documentary is that despite the fame, the tabloid hoo-has and the personal crises, he could still take the piss out of himself. You see it in the clips here from his 1998 interview with Michael Parkinson after being caught in a public loo with an undercover police officer in Beverly Hills. He wasn’t doing shame. Michael tells Parky that his mum would have been proud that he’d made it on to the show: “though not that it took me getting my willy out,” he giggles.
The Parkinson interview is one of a handful of additions to a documentary that’s already been aired on TV in 2017, now beefed up for cinema release. Michael himself co-directed, and he was putting the finishing touches on it days before his death aged 53 on Christmas Day in 2016. The point of it all seems to be to wrestle his reputation back from the tabloids, to convince everyone what a phenomenal singer-songwriter he was. Cue a starry lineup of talking heads: Mary J Blige wells up listening to one track; Elton John compares another to John Lennon; Liam Gallagher manages to pay Michael a compliment while at the same time putting the boot into Noel as he smirks: “I think our kid had a Wham! moment.”
All this flattery marches the film very close to hagiography. But what brings it back from the brink is Michael’s honest, funny, down-to-earth voice, on the narration and in archive interviews. He talks about his “desperate ambition” to be famous in the early days, the boyband years with Wham! and his solo career after the release of Faith in 1987. There’s not much personal stuff, though he talks movingly about Anselmo Feleppa, his first love. The story of how they met is like a scene from a movie: Michael spotted Feleppa in the crowd while on stage at a 1991 Rio de Janeiro concert. When Feleppa died at 36 from an Aids-related illness, Michael didn’t write a note for two years. There’s perhaps not enough new material to justify a re-release, but as a whole it’s still great, and a reminder of just what a class act Michael was.