Saturday, 15 December 2018

Whitney ★★★★★

The world of music is filled with tragic stories of talent wasted by drugs, alcohol, abuse or illness. These stories have been around since the beginning of the artform, but few are as mainstream and fresh in people’s minds as the tale of Whitney Houston. After passing away in 2012 at the age of 48, the tortured superstar has been the subject of two big retrospective documentaries. The first, entitled Whitney: Can I Be Me directed by Nick Broomfield, was “a sobering inside look” at Houston but left the audience “yearning for deeper insight”, according to Rotten Tomatoes. This is where Kevin Macdonald comes in.

In April 2016, it was announced that Macdonald (Touching The Void, The Last King of Scotland) would be teaming up with the producers of the acclaimed eponymous Amy Winehouse documentary to create the first documentary on the singer to be completely authorized by the Houston estate. The result was Whitney, a staggering and upsetting look at the singer’s rise to fame and tragic downfall.

Over 122 minutes, the film looks at all aspects of Whitney’s life with poignant emotion and reminds us how easy it is to fall from the top with negative influences around. The film obviously looks at the story of Bobby Brown and Whitney’s long history with drugs. But it makes some deeper and fresher observations that have been met with some controversy – a new theory, for example, that Whitney was molested as a child by her late cousin Dee Dee came as a shock to many. Singer Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee’s sister, claims the stories are “unfathomable” and “hearsay”. It’s difficult to know what to believe, and the documentary puts us in a very difficult place with this. Without concrete evidence, it’s very hard to jump to conclusions.

But the film needs to be difficult and needs to inspire discussion, as the documentary proves that the story of Whitney’s downfall isn’t quite as clear as it has always seemed. There are a lot of relationships, scandals, struggles and theories covered that create a huge amount of internal discussion while watching the film. The film interviews many figures close to Houston and balances this with some phenomenal never-before-scene archive footage that truly paints Whitney as a tragic and vulnerable figure in a dark industry.

Whitney is a very difficult watch. Seeing her phenomenal talent at a young age getting increasingly damaged is hard, and knowing where the story ends makes the early scenes all the more powerful as we see the young and hopeful star getting her early breaks. This is a phenomenally well-made documentary and a harrowing reminder the life of a celebrity is a difficult one. Kevin Macdonald has absolutely crafted a documentary masterpiece and a poignant tribute to Whitney Houston, while also reminding us to look deeper. There is far more to these stories than meets the eye. Whitney is a staggering piece of work and a powerful tribute to a fallen star. 

Sam Love

Whitney at CeX

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