There is no one who has even a passing interest in pop music that doesn't have a favourite track by George Michael. Either as one half of the duo Wham! or his solo stuff. The man wrote songs that will live on forever, getting particularly great shoutouts in movies like Zoolander and Deadpool. People's relationships with music is very personal, a favourite song can speak to a moment in your life, a moment in time, a person, or a feeling and Michael when composing chart topping hits tapped into this better than almost anyone else. This is the man who at sixteen wrote “guilty feet have got no rhythm”.
What Freedom Uncut offers us is a sort of epitaph from Michael; he directs, writes, narrates, constructs his memoir in a visual medium. For anyone who knows his works, his music videos were often stylish, either narrative driven like Last Christmas or statements of intent like the David Fincher directed Freedom in which supermodels lip-sync to his song. His documentary offers fantastic archive footage of him in the recording room, thoughts from people who touched his lives and those whose lives he touched.
From the start we get told by a serious faced Kate Moss that Michael was working on this documentary up until his death, and this is his final word. What we have is a documentary that examines a specific period in Michael's life, the transformation of Michael from big haired heartthrob Wham! boy into a serious musical icon. The period in which he released Faith, worked with some of the greats, faced backlash, created Listen Without Prejudice, reinvented the brand, went to war with Sony and ultimately fell in love.
The film works because Michael is showy enough to add a little pretension to the whole thing. The narration is given to us via Michael sat at a typewriter, writing his memoir, while archive footage, candid home footage and talking heads discuss the massive success of Faith. Highlights include Liam Gallagher waxing lyrical about Michael's status “modern day Elvis” he proclaims before clapping his own genius thoughts.
We see the backlash his blending of traditional “white” music and “black” music got him when he won awards designated for Black artists. We see the birth of Listen Without Prejudice where people discuss his work being like Lennon or McCartney. One brilliant moment sees Michael, backstage as a concert where he is to perform with McCartney screaming “no one fucking told me to go on”.
Where the film really hits it's stride is in the exploration of Michael's struggles against the stifling Sony Music contract, a court case he lost. Record Label executives give their verdict on the legacy of that court case, and how the battle was lost by Michael but in creating his own voice he won the war. It also helps that this public battle is juxtaposed with the story of him falling for Anselmo Feleppa and his untimely death.
By the time we have the epilogue, in which the likes of James Corden or Ricky Gervais discuss his willingness to mock his own public humiliations with the law, we see a man who lived his life in the spotlight, and paid a price. Brilliantly, Michael doesn't shy away from his embarrassment, instead discussing it openly including a brilliant introduction to Michael Parkinson “my mum would be so proud of me talking to you, if only I didn't have to get my willy out for it to happen”.
Ultimately, what Freedom Uncut reminds of, is the old adage – you might not remember what they said, but you'll remember how they made you feel.
And boy, did George Michael make us feel.
George Michael Freedom Uncut is released in UK cinemas from Wednesday 22nd of June.