Damien Love’s TV high­lights in­clud­ing Ge­orge Michael: Free­dom

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

Mon­day Ge­orge Michael: Free­dom 9pm, Chan­nel 4

FORTY-EIGHT hours be­fore his death on Christ­mas Day 2016, Ge­orge Michael was work­ing, putting fin­ish­ing touches to the doc­u­men­tary that, since com­pleted by his codi­rec­tor, friend and man­ager David Austin, is now be­ing broad­cast as the post­hu­mous self-por­trait, Free­dom. It’s a good film, can­did, al­ways in­ter­est­ing, and of­ten pow­er­fully mov­ing. But it’s tempt­ing to spec­u­late that, had Michael lived to fin­ish it him­self, it might have been even bet­ter.

In in­ter­views about the project, Austin has stressed that, aside from a new in­tro­duc­tion (de­liv­ered by Michael’s elu­sive neigh­bour, Kate Moss) and a new end­ing (a re-record­ing by Chris Martin of the poignant post­hu­mous duet on “A Dif­fer­ent Cor­ner” he first per­formed at this year’s Brit Awards), the film we see is Michael’s cut, just as he left it, last Christ­mas. But the man we glimpse in the doc­u­men­tary comes across as so smart, self­dep­re­cat­ing and largely free from bull­shit you have to won­der if he might have cut a lit­tle more, had he the chance. As a pa­rade of vary­ingly valu­able star con­trib­u­tors sing his praises, there come a few winc­ingly overblown claims that could have

been snipped – among the more pre­pos­ter­ous, Ricky Ger­vais’s vague con­tention that Michael was the first ever boy-band style pop sen­sa­tion to ma­ture into a “se­ri­ous” singer-song­writer. (Among the other con­trib­u­tors, Liam Gal­lagher is be­fud­dling even for him, but there’s great stuff from Ste­vie Won­der, who cracks the film’s best gag: “You mean Ge­orge is white?”)

The point is, the doc­u­men­tary doesn’t need the hy­per­bole. The mu­sic speaks for it­self, any­way, but when Michael does speak about it, in the spe­cially recorded in­ter­view that serves as his nar­ra­tion, the things he says are in­trigu­ing and in­sight­ful enough, with­out any ex­tra­ne­ous buff­ing.

There are four sto­ries told in Free­dom, wind­ing to­gether into the larger story of a key pe­riod in the singer’s life. The heart of it is a look back at Michael’s 1990 al­bum, Lis­ten With­out Prej­u­dice. (Not co­in­ci­den­tally, the film is ap­pear­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously with a new deluxe edi­tion of the record.)

But to tell that record’s story ne­ces­si­tates first sketch­ing what came be­fore, Michael’s me­te­oric rise, from the teenage break­out in Wham, through to his world­con­quer­ing de­but solo al­bum of 1987, Faith. It’s par­tic­u­larly shock­ing now to re­mem­ber, or re­alise, that when that LP made him the planet’s big­gest-sell­ing artist, he was still only 24.

That success was the pay-off for the fe­ro­cious am­bi­tion he’d nursed since the “soul on the dole” days in Wham, but it took heavy toll on his men­tal health. Lis­ten With­out Prej­u­dice was Michael’s re­ac­tion to, and re­treat from, those burnout pres­sures. Fa­mously, he chose nei­ther to ap­pear on the record’s sleeve, or in videos for its sin­gles.

His un­will­ing­ness to pro­mote the al­bum leads into the next sec­tion, an ac­count of his bruis­ing le­gal bat­tle with his dis­mayed record la­bel, Sony, as they lost pa­tience, and he tried to challenge his con­tract, a war Michael fought hard, and lost badly.

All of this is in­ter­est­ing, but what lifts the film to a dif­fer­ent level is the fourth nar­ra­tive: Michael’s sim­ple, some­times painfully raw ac­count of his time with the man who be­came his first great love, Anselmo Feleppa, and of los­ing him to HIV, their en­tire re­la­tion­ship play­ing out when Michael had yet to pub­licly come out as gay. It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any­one – even if you’ve never ad­mit­ted to lik­ing a sin­gle Ge­orge Michael record – could come away from this film with­out some re­spect for the man. For fans, mean­while, it will be a sad slice of heaven.

Fin­lay Wil­son Pho­to­graph: Si­mon Bux­ton

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