September 2022 - NOW SHOWING: The Last Words of a Lyrical Genius - George Michael
We all have those moments that we clearly remember where we were when a moment in history changed our lives. On December 25, 2016, I was making Christmas dinner for my family when I received a notification on my phone.
George Michael dead at age 53.
As I read the words, I could not comprehend them. Seeing "George Michael" and "dead" in a sentence did not seem possible. I went through my routine of checking all the reputable news outlets to confirm if it was true. Sadly, to my dismay, it was. I called my close friend, who was a major fan, and had the opportunity to meet him in Dallas. I felt like I needed to be the one to tell him. I did not want him to find out online. I sensed that he would need someone there to feel that void that many in this world just lost. That's how it felt. We had a hole in our hearts for a man we never met but thought we knew - through his words and music. George Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, was a juggernaut in the music industry. In his later years, his music became incredibly poignant and touched many in various ways. Regardless of what his record label, other artists, or the press deemed him to be, he made his choices and owned them.
So, it should be no surprise with his passing came the speculations, TV specials, and mini-documentaries. They all claim they know the "real" George Michael and his life. Just like one of my other musical greats, Freddie Mercury, I would find myself watching every piece that would pop up, even before his death. Some were interesting. Quite a few enlightening others were straight drivel, finding myself saying that I would never get that time back. Once Michael died, I never thought there would be a piece of film that would truly capture what I imagine the man who wrote Praying for Time to be. I found out about two documentaries that I felt would present him in the view I expected.
George Michael: Portrait of an Artist gives a title I thought would provide that little something I have been looking for! This documentary would look into Michael's career from the UK perspective - UK actors, artists, friends, promoters, and industry professionals, while using stock footage from his lifetime. The documentary asked the question, “Who was George Michael?" It details just that. Told candidly from the people who knew him best – his music manager Simon Napier-Bell, his longtime lover and partner Kenny Goss, fellow luminaries Stevie Wonder, Rufus Wainwright, Stephen Fry, and many more. The film is informative and full of stories, but it was missing the vulnerability I would expect to see when it claims they know who George Michael was. One moment that stood out was an interview with actor Stephen Fry. After Michael's death, it would be shared through social media how generous he was with his philanthropy. Fry shared that Michael wanted to donate to an HIV/AIDS organization Fye assisted in raising money for. But he had a unique way of how to handle it. Instead of writing a check, he agreed to donate all UK royalties from his greatest hits album. The documentary also discusses the relationship that would affect Michael to the core. His relationship with partner Anselmo Feleppa, who he lost to the AIDS virus in 1993. Everything else felt like your standard profile of a music artist - he was talented, made it big, won awards, fell in love, got arrested in a bathroom, came out, did drugs, and died - the end. It covered monumental moments of his career, including the Sony court case and his hit on Rupert Murdoch. But with so many people who knew him, it only scratched the surface. It was a straight-lace portrayal of someone who just wasn't. While George Michael: Portrait of an Artist was a glimpse at a life that touched millions in a very color-by-numbers way, it could've had a little more heart.
Then comes George Michael: Freedom Uncut. Re-released in June of 2022 on major streaming platforms, this was the documentary I wanted to see. It had the heart, vulnerability, and boldness I saw in George Michael, and I discovered why. This documentary had him all over it. It was his last piece of work before he left this world. You felt him in it, and those who took part brought a perspective I could chew on because there was substance to the presentation. It touched on one of the topics that many documentaries would ignore - the success of a white man in a black music world. It was honest and glad that it was shared, which is just one of the reasons that this piece of art works well. You learn the behind-the-scenes of his albums and what each one gave or took from him. Many listen to his music and feel the beat. Others listen to the words. 25, one of my favorite albums is a vision of what was to come. Listen Without Prejudice, Older, and Patience were three albums that Michael poured every bit of himself into. Love, fear, insecurity, and hope flowed throughout those records, and the documentary gave them the respect they deserved. Every loss Michael had in his life was shared - without the fear of making the viewer feel uncomfortable from the sadness. All and all, it was truthful and made fans realize that when it comes to who can tell his story to a real satisfaction, it was the man himself.
Both documentaries are informative and telling. So no matter which one you choose, you will learn something about the life and death of an influential artist who struggled with his success.
Author: Teresa Robinson