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EIFF 2018: George Michael: Freedom - Director’s Cut (2017)

N.B. This film is not on wide release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th June 2018.

The life of a pop star

Musician George Michael was working on this autobiographical documentary up until his death from heart failure, at the age of 53, on Christmas Day 2016. It was subsequently completed by his best friend, songwriting partner and manager David Austin. This director’s cut, showing at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, contains additional footage not seen in the original TV movie first aired in 2017.

Featuring confessional audio interviews, music videos and live footage, it takes a look at his meteoric rise to fame on the back of Wham! - his pop duet act with Andrew Ridgeley - and with a subsequent solo career which made him into one of the world’s largest and most enduring musical entertainers. A number of musicians and other talents with whom he collaborated (including comedians Ricky Gervais and James Corden) reminisce about their favourite songs and their memories of the man.

The documentary also takes a look at his tragic relationship with the Brazilian Anselmo Feleppa who passed away from AIDS in 1993, his eventual very public coming out about his sexuality and his legal tussles with record label Sony over what he viewed as a contract that amounted to slave labour.

Watch a trailer:

A fine tribute marred by some missed opportunities

This documentary starts off with an interview with model Kate Moss, who succinctly and effectively sums up that great sense of loss which so many around the world felt when George Michael departed us on 25th December 2016. Needless to say, there’s plenty of (not undeserved) affection on display here as various celebrities listen to vinyl recordings of the man’s music and reveal how it spoke to each of them. As a tribute to the man’s talent and showmanship, George Michael: Freedom certainly succeeds in its aim.

As a portrait of the man behind the hit songs and occasional controversies, however, it is more of a muted success. Rather than consistently hitting the intensely personal level of Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy (2015), it merely flirts with it intermittently before pulling back for another slew of sentimental recollections. For one thing, his relationship with Anselmo Feleppa is practically treated like it was the only one which he ever had in his life. Understandably, it was an important one to him - firstly, due to the fact that it was the first time he had ever found true love, and secondly, because this first love was cruelly snatched away from him by the HIV virus. However, none of his other life partners even get a look in. Where’s the mention of Fadi Fawaz, whom he was in a relationship with since 2012 and who found him dead at his home? Indeed, there isn’t even any light thrown on the circumstances which might have led to the singer’s untimely death. It’s also a bit of a shame that Andrew Ridgeley, his co-conspirator from his early Wham! years, doesn’t pop up for an interview. The result of all of this is a picture which never really feels complete.

That said, the snippets of his own audio interview footage are truly moving. He candidly discusses his own challenges in dealing with the staggering level of fame thrust upon him, as well as the emotional fallout whom he endured from the passing away of both Feleppa and his own mother. This sense of vulnerability heard peering out from behind that giant rock star ego successfully creates a deeper connection with the viewer which would otherwise have been slightly lacking.

Runtime: 113 mins

Dir: David Austin, George Michael

Starring: George Michael, Mary J. Blige, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, James Corden, Clive Davis, Ricky Gervais, Elton John, Kate Moss, Mark Ronson, Stevie Wonder, Liam Gallagher

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2

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