Wednesday, April 17, 2024

How George Michael Wanted to be Remembered: “As One of Those Last Big Stars in the Sense That There Was a Glamour to It”


George Michael wrote his own obituary with a documentary he’d almost finished about himself. Now this extraordinary film called “Freedom” comes to Showtime October 21st. Michael’s music partner David Austin completed the work, but it’s George’s film, don’t be fooled. And it it quite wonderful.

The main story about the making of his great solo album, called “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1,” in 1990. But it’s really bigger than that, explaining quite a bit — in George’s own words– about his early life, Wham!, his solo career, being gay and coming out, even some acknowledgement of his brushes with the law and what happened to him that brought him to make the movie.

Of course, as with all the great stars we’ve lost to drugs and fame, all you can think is what a shame it is he can’t see the results.

How does George want to be remembered: “As a great singer songwriter… from a period of time we won’t be seeing again, like Prince or Madonna… As one of the last big stars in the sense that there was a certain glamour to it. And someone who had some kind of integrity.” He pauses and thinks about. “Very unlikely.” Adding ruefully, not quite meaning it: “It’s all been a waste of time, a waste of effort.”

“Freedom” is notable for many things, including Nile Rodgers’ reworking of “Fantasy” to Chris Martin’s over end credits singing of one of the most beautiful songs of all time, “A Different Corner,” which the Coldplay singer used a memorial to George at the February 2017 Brit Awards. Otherwise, there is plenty of music and lots of video clips, although as far as I can see there is no mention of “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” or it’s accompanying video.

But “Freedom” is about freedom– freedom to become a solo star, to get freedom from Sony his record label, in court, to find sexual freedom, and freedom to express himself as an artist.

There is much talk about the love of his life, a man named Anselmo, who died of AIDS after their brief affair. That relationship seems to have wrecked Michael in a way maybe no one understood before this.It’s incredibly moving.

But there’s also the career side. “Listen Without Prejudice” was a rebuke to fans who first embraced and then criticized his first solo album, “Faith,” in 1987. A long sequence recalls that after winning the American Music awards prize for Best R&B album Michael was suddenly accused of cultural appropriation– of trying to be a modern Pat Boone. It was far from the case, but a lynch mob mentality (sound familiar or current?) crushed him.

“Freedom” contains interviews with Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Ricky Gervais, Nile Rogers, Mark Ronson, Tracey Emin, Liam Gallagher, Mary J. Blige, Jean Paul Gaultier, James Corden and Tony Bennett– as well as the models who apeeared in the “Freedom 90” video including Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz and Linda Evangelista.

The whole thing is just stunning and not be missed.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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