Director: Kevin Macdonald
Screenwriter: Kevin Macdonald
Runtime: 120 mins.
Australian release date: 26 July 2018
Previewed at: Palace Central, Sydney, on 10 July 2018.
In 2017, Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s Whitney ‘Can I Be Me’ was released across Australia. It was a revealing portrait of a much-loved icon and explained a lot about her to those who may not have been fans, especially why Whitney Houston was such an important figure in contemporary music and how her life was abruptly brought to a halt. Cut to 2018 and this week Scottish director Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney is about to hit the screens, claiming to be ‘The untold story. For the first time’. Oh really? Admittedly, Macdonald has gained access to members of Houston’s family, something that Broomfield and Dolezal didn’t have, and there is a big reveal in this version of the singer’s life that may explain why this talented, beautiful woman took to drugs, but the gist of the story has been covered before.
Macdonald probes deep into Whitney’s family history and conducts a number of interviews with her mother, Cissy Houston, and her brothers, Gary and Michael, who were part of her entourage. The men admit to shared drug binges while acting as minders and ‘gofers’ and there are a number of scenes clearly depicting these moments as the singer begins to unravel, at times exhibiting quite manic behaviour. Meanwhile others around her, including her partner of 14 years, rapper Bobby Brown, denied any drug taking and make out that all was well. The footage of Whitney’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, who appears on-stage with Whitney in one scene, is heart-breaking and you get the feeling that the child was not in a good space. The fact that she also died from an overdose some years later is perhaps an indication of her early exposure to a life that must have been pretty surreal. It doesn’t stop there, as Macdonald found out that a member of the extended Houston family, who also abused drugs and alcohol, may have sexually interfered with the young Whitney. This information, only added in the final days of the edit prior to the doc’s Cannes Film Festival showing, was apparently a shock to the family. Interestingly Robyn Crawford, Whitney’s closest friend and reputed lover, refused to be interviewed once again.
Using fascinating archival footage, Macdonald does not hold back when he includes the tragic performance Whitney delivers during a comeback Australian tour; one member of the audience delivers a damning analysis that makes you glad you weren’t there. It’s not all bad news though, as the film reminds you just why the artist had seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles and was known as ‘The Voice’, and how effortless she made it seem. Her vocal range and ability were astounding. Still, Whitney makes for disturbing viewing when you observe her struggling with her demons. Dead at 48, Whitney Houston was, as depicted in both documentaries, a victim of fame and circumstance and Macdonald’s film confirms how desperate she was as her life fell apart around her.