Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Whitney: Film Review

Whitney: Film Review

Director: Kevin Macdonald

At first glance, there's no reason why Kevin Macdonald's Whitney doco should work.
Whitney Houston's demons were more or less covered in Nick Broomfield's 2017 documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me, leading the casual viewer to the feeling that another couldn't really add much more to the mix.
Whitney: Film Review

But what Macdonald's doco has is more access to family archives, in among the inevitable talking heads, and it's made the world of difference in the 120 minute running time.

The chronicles of Whitney's problems are not new, and while Macdonald's addition to her story is accusations of sexual abuse of Whitney in her childhood, a lot of the ground covered will be familiar to those who've seen the prior doco.

That said, what Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, State of Play) does is craft together a biographical piece that gleams in the spotlight of familiarity. Assembling together a veritable trove of archive material and interviews only of the closest members of Houston's remaining clan, Macdonald creates a portrait of a woman whose dreams and desires were gradually eroded by the industry and familial greed.
Whitney: Film Review

From the success of Houston's trailblazing musical ways in the mid 80s to the nondescript demise in a bathtub in 2012, Macdonald's packed the 2 hours with more than enough material to offer a full picture, and with a view to tautly editing proceedings, he's ensured there's never anything less than compelling material on screen.

The drugs Whitney fell into are widely discussed in the latter part of the piece, but Bobby Brown shuts down any talk of this in one of the few moments that frustrates. Macdonald prods further, but a lack of any level of engagement makes it difficult, and also demonstrates some of the problems Whitney Houston faced, with no one really willing or able to discuss her demons for fear of derailing her pop train.

Several scenes have Houston's soulful voice ring out, and it still provides goosebumps, even to the non-fans. Earlier insights such as Houston's nickname Nippy, and mother Cissy Houston's discussions add much to the doco's joie de vivre before the inevitable maudlin last 20 minutes or so kick in.

Macdonald keeps proceedings simple, letting others do the talking - but there are moments of flair.
Whitney: Film Review

Montages of Houston's music are intercut with 80s pop culture references (from Pepsi ads to space shuttle launches, presidents and fellow pop stars), an intermingling reminder of how of the time Houston was and how prevalent her music was in the cultural collective consciousness.

Aside from all of that, what Whitney does, and does exceedingly well, is provide a compellingly complete portrait of what happened, and how it happened. Occasionally, the why becomes a little lost in the telling of the story, and the intuitive touches Macdonald brings helps lift the weaker touches out of any mire.

Willing to explore both the good and bad of Houston, the personal and the all-American tragedy,
Whitney: Film Review

Whitney is a fascinating narrative, a warts-and-all exploration of where the dream went wrong, a distillation of a clutch of complex issues that all collided in one person.

Whitney is a thrilling and deeply engaging documentary that deserves to be up there with the best of the genre - a true exploration of a troubled genius, and an at times, damning indictment of the greed and abuse of others within the industry, and more upsettingly, within the should-be-safe circle of family.

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