Review: ‘George Michael: A Different Story’

A candid, self-deprecating and altogether winning career-to-date overview, "George Michael: A Different Story" finds the witty and articulate pop star looking back with unblinking candor and wry humor on an eventful 20-year-plus run that embraces worldwide hit records, personal tragedy, public scandal and more than his fair share of fashion violations.

A candid, self-deprecating and altogether winning career-to-date overview, “George Michael: A Different Story” finds the witty and articulate pop star looking back with unblinking candor and wry humor on an eventful 20-year-plus run that embraces worldwide hit records, personal tragedy, public scandal and more than his fair share of fashion violations. Already broadcast in the U.K., well-received at the Berlin fest (where Michael presided over a packed press conference) and slated for the inaugural Wide Angle sidebar of the Tribeca fest, pic is substantial enough for limited theatrical play prior to strong cable and ancillary life.

Accompanied by his friend David, Michael points out landmarks in North London, where he grew up Georgios Kyriacos Panayioutou (though he never specifically says this). Bruised by early record company chicanery, he and pal Andrew Ridgeley hit the bigtime in 1982 with the high-energy pop of Wham! Among pic’s high points is duo’s first joint interview in nearly 20 years, during which they sort of clear up the question of whether they were ever romantically involved with each other.

The singer disbanded Wham! in the mid-1980s, and after a two-year hiatus began a streak of solo hits that screeched to a halt in 1993 when, declaring himself a “pop slave,” he undertook to free himself from a restrictive recording contract with Sony.

Of the process involved in discovering his own sexuality, Michael says, “Oh my God, I’m a massive star and I think I may be a poof. What am I going to do? This will not end well.” He speaks with candor and dignity of his Brazilian lover Anselmo Feleppa, who died of AIDS in 1992, even as the singer was delivering a spine-tingling rendition of “Somebody to Love” at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert.

And, of course, there’s the infamous 1998 Los Angeles bust for lewd behavior in a park toilet, which Michael assesses with both bluntness and aplomb. Lately, his work has taken a strong political stance, with clips from his “Shoot the Dog” video underscoring this.

In addition to his own self-deprecating presence, famous chums chime in with affectionate jabs of their own: Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp discounts perceived friction with Wham!, while Elton John notes that, “To come out of the closet being busted in a toilet is not the best way to come out of the closet.” Only the dependably crabby Noel Gallagher says anything that sounds remotely mean-spirited.

Given the wealth of cringe-inducing musicvideos generated by Wham! — all of which drew exuberant groans and gales of laughter from the Berlin aud — tech credits are crisp and fluid, with particular kudos to sound mixers Roger Dobson and Ash Tirabady. Audio snippet of the young Michael warbling Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” is particularly poignant. During Berlin fest press conference, reclusive singer declared pop music “dead as far as I am concerned” and described pic as “very important to explain myself before I disappear” from the scene.

George Michael: A Different Story

U.K.

Production

An Aegean Films production. (International sales: Gorilla Entertainment, London.) Produced by Caroline True. Executive producer, Andy Stephens. Directed, written by Southan Morris, from an idea by George Michael.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), John Sorapure; editor, Duncan Shepherd; sound editors, Roger Dobson, Ash Tirabady. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 16, 2005. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival -- Wide Angle.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With

David Austin, Andrew Ridgeley, Boy George, Connie Filippello, Elton John, Geri Halliwell, Jack Panayiotou, Kenny Goss, Mariah Carey, Martin Kemp, Michelle May, Noel Gallagher, Paul Gambaccini, Pepsi Demacque-Crockett, Phil Ramone, Rob Stringer, Shirlie Kemp, Simon Cowell, Sting.

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