Whitney is a documentary-film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Directed by Kevin MacDonald, the documentary explores the life of iconic musician Whitney Houston, examining everything from her early years, her unparalleled levels of success, to her battle with addiction, leading to her untimely death, aged 48 in 2012. While I was aware of Whitney Houston’s music, and recognised her stunning talent, this documentary gave me the opportunity to delve-deep into her work and the circumstances surrounding her life.
Major praise must be directed at this picture for gathering so many of the key personalities that surrounded Houston’s life to be interviewed, for the purpose of painting a picture of the life of this lauded artist. There is little to no bias, as even those closest to the “I Have Nothing” singer portrayed a complex and truthful image of the star. As the film progresses, some key figures come across far better than others, as we begin to see the manner in which they treated the star before her death. Still, MacDonald never sets-up anyone as a villain. Instead, he presents the information and the events in frank-fashion, ensuring no level of bias exists and crafts a well-rounded documentary.
Whitney Houston herself, thankfully and rightly so, is the heart and soul of the picture. Her vibrant presence illuminates the big-screen and is utterly infectious, just as it was on the various award and chat shows she appeared on during her various promotional tours. I so appreciated the film-makers efforts to highlight Houston’s innocence and organic passion for soul and gospel music in the years prior to her demons and addictions. She came across utterly lively and bright, and her connection to music was so utterly pure, making the lethal-spiral of addiction she would eventually face all-the-more devastating.
MacDonald’s film captures entirely the horror of addiction, without ever glorifying it, contrasting extraordinary highs with crushing lows. The sequences that capture her frightening and rapid downfall were disturbing, shocking, and ultimately serve as a warning about the dark-side of fame. I appreciated the decision to showcase in equal Whitney Houston at her best and Whitney Houston at her most self-destructive, for it seemed (unfortunately so) more honest and genuine as a viewer. One scene of Houston performing the U.S National Anthem was stunning, and is the ideal way Houston should always be remembered. The music itself will surely bring a smile to your face, whether it’s the crowd-pleasing hits such as “How Will I Know” or “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”. That being said, it’s in songs like “I Will Always Love You” that Whitney Houston’s voice truly soars to its full potential and strike a true chord with all those who hear it.
What makes “Whitney” standout from other documentaries on iconic musicians, is its ability to serve as a history lesson. The picture captures and explores the social and cultural scene of the U.S in the years Whitney Houston was dominating the charts, taking you back to a time that saw the rise of MTV, Pepsi commercials and where racial barriers were being broken. This had the ability to add a great deal of richness to the picture, even increasing the intensity and the emotion, while also serving as a wonderful background to the events of Whitney Houston’s life. These elements ensured that this feature is worthy of the big screen experience.
Something utterly haunting about “Whitney” is how familiar the main arc of the story is. The tale of a successful musician, overwhelmed by fame, battling addictions and facing an untimely death have been played out far too-much, and it never any-less saddening. It’s tragic, a warning against the dangers of the industry but reminds us of Houston’s rich legacy that will never be forgotten. If I had any quarrels with, what is otherwise a terrific documentary, it’s the certain rushed aspects of Whitney’s growing career. I would have liked to have seen how her hit tunes were crafted, written and produced and perhaps some studio footage. The songs are stunning when featured, its just that personally, I found that being able to witness the craftmanship that went into these musical compositions was a missed opportunity, and would have added slightly more weight to the picture.
Regardless of such an issue, “Whitney” is a breathtakingly magical yet grim and heart-breaking film, that captures the life of one of the all-time greatest singers. It’s a marvellous reminder of an extraordinary talent, while not deviating away from some of the harsher circumstances that Houston was faced with during her life-time. I highly recommend it for Whitney fans everywhere and is likely going to peak many non die-hard fan’s interest. It’s informative, un-biased, superbly edited and made with a lot of care and love for its singular subject. A memorable and poignant tribute to a revolutionary musician gone far-too soon.