George Michael: Freedom Uncut — which the singer was still working on at the time of his tragic death on 25 December 2016 — finally gives the superstar the theatrical release he, and his myriad fans, deserve, offering new material including more footage from David Fincher’s ‘Freedom! ’90’ music-video shoot.
Few artists in the history of pop have been so acutely aware of their own career path as Michael. This was, after all, the man who stage-managed Wham!’s curtain call with a gig called ‘The Final’ at a sold-out Wembley event in 1986, having already sequestered ‘Careless Whisper’ — co-written with Wham!’s Andrew Ridgeley years earlier — to set in motion his solo career in 1984. No surprise, then, that George Michael: Freedom — even in its Uncut form — has a heavily curated feel. And despite his candid, confessional approach, there is a sense even at its end that we haven’t really met the man behind the megastar.
This is a candid, touching tribute to a true music legend
For all the moments of quiet intimacy, there are just as many contributions from glitzy talking heads, from Elton John to Stevie Wonder to Naomi Campbell to, somewhat surprisingly, Liam Gallagher, that underline Michael’s astonishing professional status rather than delve into the complex character who created him.
The passage of time since the film’s initial broadcast has also rendered the documentary’s musical bookends — Adele and Chris Martin covering ‘Fastlove’ and ‘A Different Corner’ respectively — a little redundant, somehow; in 2017, they were of course fitting tributes from acts at the very top of the pop tree. Now, with Michael five years gone, there’s an argument for seeing more of the man himself perform.
Contributions of varying quality from James Corden, Ricky Gervais and Tracey Emin feel more random, especially when you realise there’s no place here for Michael’s Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley.
Actually, the Wham! years are barreled through in about five minutes, but the documentary is much stronger at exploring Michael’s personal and professional tumult in the ’90s. Home video footage of Michael and Anselmo Feleppa, his first love who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1993, segues sensitively into Michael talking about his devastating, grief-stricken 1996 album ‘Older’.