WHITNEY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Director: Kevin MacDonald.

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This well researched and revealing film from Oscar winning filmmaker Kevin McDonald (Touching The Void, etc) is the second documentary in as many years charting the rise and tragic death of pop diva Whitney Houston. Whitney: Can I Be Me from British journalist and filmmaker Nick Broomfield centred more on her later years, depicting her decline through the drug abuse and her untimely death by drowning in a bathtub at the Beverly Hills Hilton at the age of 48.

Broomfield’s documentary was more of a muck rucking effort, and he spent a lot of time probing her self-destructive behaviour, and her controversial relationship with close friend Robyn Crawford. Bloomfield’s film also centred around the rare backstage footage from her 1999 World Tour, in which her physical decline became more obvious. His documentary felt disjointed and limited in scope. And while McDonald does explore some similar territory, he gives us a more comprehensive look into Houston’s life. He spends a lot of time exploring her early years and her spectacular rise to fame. This is more revealing than Broomfield’s documentary.

Whitney was born and raised in New Jersey during a troubled period of American history, and McDonald cleverly integrates newsreel footage of race riots and burning buildings to provide some context. McDonald draws upon a range of archival footage, early television appearances and lots of candid interviews and anecdotes to give us a comprehensive picture of Whitney and her life. There is footage of her memorable appearance at the Superbowl XXV in 1991 in which she delivered a haunting version of the national anthem. There is even an interview with Clive Davis, the head of Arista Records, who talks about signing her to his label.

Houston had a run of seven consecutive number one singles on the Billboard charts, and the soundtrack album for her 1992 movie The Bodyguard yielded the successful hit I Will Always Love You, which is the bestselling hit from a female artist. And McDonald does showcase her voice, providing audiences with more singing and music than Broomfield to remind us of the enormity of her talent.

McDonald’s film also has the seal of approval from Houston’s own family, which means that he has been granted greater access to her life and there are extensive and revealing interviews with her mother Cissy, herself a singer and a big influence on her life. There are extensive interviews with other family members, colleagues and friends. But he doesn’t pull his punches, and one candid interview reveals allegations of childhood sexual abuse. Her brothers also admit supplying Whitney with drugs, long before she met rapper Bobby Brown, who became her husband.

There is even an awkward interview with Brown himself in which he refuses point blank to address the issue of drugs and how they contributed to her downfall. McDonald also hints at the emotional damage that the volatile relationship between Whitney and Brown inflicted on their daughter Bobbi Kristine. It is ironic that she also died tragically in similar circumstances three years later.

However, many interviews that lacked deep insight, or which McDonald considered boring, eventually ended up on the cutting room floor.

Whitney is more of a celebration of her life and achievements but it does explore the highs and lows of her career. Amy remains one of the best music documentaries. While Whitney is not quite in the same league, it is still a revealing, sympathetic and comprehensive glimpse into the life of one of the great music superstars of our time.

★★★☆

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