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‘George Michael: Portrait of An Artist’ (review)

George Michael was a complicated man with the kind of talent that only very few are able to harness.

His ability to anticipate trends, be it music, fashion or the sociopolitical, was incredibly prophetic and it’s only by looking backward through his catalog that you are actually able to appreciate it.

In Simon Napier-Bell’s documentary George Michael: Portrait of An Artist he gives an overview of Michael’s career and his personal life through interviews of friends, presenters, fellow musicians and Michael’s own words (captured through various tv appearances and interviews) to construct a story of who George Michael was and his affect on popular culture throughout the highs and lows of a career spanning over 30 years.

While the documentary does an excellent job of establishing a smooth timeline of events from Wham!’s emergence in the UK in the early 80s to Michael’s tragic death in 2016, there’s a very weird mishmash of psychologists, presenters (like Piers Morgan) and musicologists who are given an incredible amount of on-screen time, despite the fact that their relationship with Michael isn’t really substantiated.

This makes a notable portion of the documentary seem impersonal. I would have much rather seen larger segments dedicated to those who were more involved in Michael’s life at a particular moment in time than a psychologist who didn’t have anything to do with him, waxing philosophically on Michael’s “inner darkness”.

The conversations involving producers, his tour musicians, music video directors, and fellow artists and friends give a deeply, well-rounded examination of Michael’s drive and self-exploration through his music and yes, his sexuality, giving the documentary it’s flavor, but when it veers back into interviews with people whose connections to Michael have not clearly been established, it leaves one questioning their role in the documentary.

There’s also a real lack of examination of his relationships with some incredibly important people in his life that seem a bit odd.

His family dynamic is mentioned a few times but never really allowed to be delved into by those close to him, his falling out with Wham! partner and best friend from childhood, Andrew Ridgeley, isn’t given much screen time, nor was there any mention of Michael’s partner of four years, Fadi Fawaz.

This in particular seems like a real oversight considering that there seems to be an indirect (and unnamed) mention of Fawaz as a bad influence at the end of the documentary (and he would later, after Michael’s death, do some pretty horrible things with the estate and will). These relationships seem like a real missed opportunity for director Napier-Bell to establish just how much they contributed to Michael’s career and personal trajectory and I really wish they could have been more thoroughly explored.

While having some issues, George Michael: Portrait of An Artist still manages to highlight Michael’s talent and story in a way that honors his life and that fans will no doubt enjoy, making it worth watching.

It acts as kind of a starting point for people who may want to go deeper into his personal story and discography (and I highly suggest you do, his songs are amazing) but may not have been as interested before seeing the documentary. Viewers should just be aware that there is a lot more depth to Michael’s story than is included in this documentary (Andrew Ridgeley’s book Wham!: George Michael and Me: A Memoir goes into their relationship more thoroughly than what is presented here). Despite some oversimplifications and omissions, the film does have a real love for Michael that comes through, pushing the narrative beautifully and really driving home the underlining theme of genius as a double-edge sword that attracts the best and worst in someone.

Which, as we all know, is why people like George Michael fascinate us in the first place.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Eamonn O’Keefe
Directed by Simon Napier-Bell
Featuring Stevie Wonder, Stephen Fry, Kenny Goss, Piers Morgan, Richard Madeley


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