WHITNEY is a household name. Her song “I will always love you” was the all time number one selling record of any female artist. Whitney Houston starred with Kevin Costner in the movie hit THE BODYGUARD. When she drowned in her bath tub from an overdose in 2012, she again made headline news, but not in the best of occasions. Everyone knows who Whitney Houston and bits and pieces of her troubled life but director Kevin Macdonald (he made the Oscar winning Doc ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER) bares it all in the warts-an-all documentary of one of the world’s most famous singers of all time.
Director can do nothing but screen Whitney’s performances onscreen (except for maybe her disastrous Danish concert) and still capture the audience’s interest. Macdonald realizes the potential of her performances and there are many songs played on the film’s soundtrack. Her most famous song, “I will always love you,” is heard twice with Whitney performing, once in a rousing rendering in South Africa after Apartheid and the second not so arousing during the Danish concert where fans booed her offstage. Macdonald begins the film with an uplifting note, with Whitney rendering her other famous song “I wanna dance with somebody” with voice over claiming her to be the number 1 pop star. The film goes down from that high point.
Not long into minutes of that song, Macdonald edits into the picture images on America’s unrest from riots to bombings to angry demonstrations. One immediately wonders the reason Macdonald is doing this as Whitney’s life has nothing much to do with a all these, except that she was living during those times. The same thing can be observed in the recent Elvis documentary THE KING, but in that one Elvis was drafted into the military and he was cited as the American dream. The film then delves into Whitney’s childhood, going on to her rise in the music industry with some reference to her church singing.
After the first third of the film’s 2 hour running time, Macdonald slowly charts Whitney’s downfall. This encompasses her caustic marriage to Bobby Brown, her drug addiction, her child molestation, her fallout with her father, her failure for a comeback and finally her death from an overdose. These are depressing topics and mar the life of a celebrity the world loves. Fans will take offence over this grim look on their favourite idol though it is claimed that this documentary was made with the full cooperation of the Houston family
Macdonald attempts to defend his position during an interview with Whitney’s ex-husband Bobby when he refuses to talk about Whitney’s drug abuse claiming that this was not the cause of her downfall. Macdonald retorts that she was taking drugs in the last years of life and not to include it in the doc would not paint a true picture of her. True, but Macdonald also includes a long panning shots as the camera moves in and out of the hotel room to the bathtub where she drowned. Again, one wonders the purpose for this gruesome and uncomfortable exercise.
The last documentary made about a similar performer was Asif Kapadia’s Academy Award Winning AMY. Macdonald’s WHITNEY definitely has his audience feeling sorry for her though more good memories could have been included in his grim documentary. When one loves and remembers Whitney, one wants to remember the good stuff as well as the bad.