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A bright star lost too soon: “Whitney”

Updated: Oct 19, 2018


Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" from her sophomore album, "Whitney," quickly topped the charts in 1987. (Frame shots courtesy Lionsgate Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; R for profanity and drug content; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu

Best extra: Commentary with Producer Simon Chinn and Director Kevin Macdonald

MAGICAL, FLAWLESS and unmatched. That was Whitney Houston’s voice, a voice that dominated the 1980s and ‘90s with seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles and more than 200 million albums sold worldwide.

Her beauty and one-of-a-kind talent captured an entire generation. With the voice of an angel, the body of a runway model and a contagious smile, the pop icon was the picture of perfection until her polished public persona and tumultuous personal life collided. Erratic behavior, a failed marriage, and years of cocaine use marred her picture-perfect image before her sudden death at the age of 48 – just one day before the 2012 Grammys.

Even as she spiraled downward before our eyes, Whitney Houston as anything other than perfect always seemed impossible to accept. Amid the denial from fans were questions. How did the picture of talent and innocence meet such a tragic end? Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald and producer Simon Chinn set out to answer that pressing question with “Whitney.”

Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, always passed down a strong gospel music heritage to her daughter.

Whitney's brother, Michael, admits that he introduced her to drugs.

Whitney Houston grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Many believe she was always destined to become a singer.

Whitney is pictured with her parents and brothers.

As Chinn and Macdonald embarked on this biographical documentary, they quickly met a roadblock. What happened to Whitney Houston was a question nobody could truly answer. It was a mystery even to those who worked with her for decades. The filmmakers set that goal aside and instead aimed to lift portions of the veil that always covered the superstar’s life. In doing so, perhaps they could unearth a few answers. “We didn’t come to this as sort of die-hard Whitney fans, but I think actually through the process of making the film we’ve sort of come to a different sort of appreciation for her,” Chinn says in the commentary.

Houston was always very guarded during her interviews, witty and conversational while revealing very little about herself, so footage that would allow the superstar to tell her own story was scarce. Filmmakers depended on her mother, brothers, exes, friends and colleagues to paint a picture of her. Ex-husband Bobby Brown was very cautious in his interview while Houston’s best friend, Robyn Crawford, opted not to participate in the film, much to Chinn and Macdonald’s dismay. Cissy Houston provided painfully candid commentary about her late daughter. “I think that frailty and the difficulties and tragedy she’s gone through in her life does really come through in her interview,” Chinn said.

Chinn and Macdonald use their commentary track to offer insight into Cissy Houston’s life and career as well. They also explain their decision to reveal some of the family’s most shameful history that was hidden from the public until now. They highlighted those family secrets to accurately tell Houston’s story, marking moments when the singer’s innocence was lost.

Archival footage from the 1980s was hard to come by, but Chinn and Macdonald found some gems, like video that introduces fans to a teenage Whitney Houston singing in church. Other videos invite audiences into some of the singer’s personal moments with family and friends. Chinn and Macdonald used performance footage to bring Houston’s voice to the film and, in a way, allow her to tell her side of the story. Though she never wrote her own music, they believe she found the most personal meaning in songs about yearning, whether yearning for love or yearning for home.

Whitney sang "Home" during her first national television appearance in 1983 on the Merv Griffin Show.

Clive Davis signed Whitney to her first record contract in 1983 and remained her mentor throughout her career.

Whitney and her longtime friend, Robyn Crawford, met as teenagers. Crawford, who went on to become Whitney's personal assistant, declined to be interviewed for the documentary.

Ex-husband Bobby Brown, often blamed by the public for Whitney's apparent drug addictions, was very cautious as he shared memories of their time together.

The Blu-ray also includes a photo gallery of eight images. Some appear to be polished press photos, while others are more candid. The somber and ghostly music that accompanies the photos is in stark contrast to Whitney’s vibrant smile.

While “Whitney” uncovers some of the star’s mystery and evokes pleasant memories of the voice the world loved, it is also dismal and mournful, igniting painful reminders of what the world lost and a longing for what could have been.

― DeAnne M. Williams

In 1991, Whitney delivered what is considered the greatest adaptaion of the U.S. National Anthem during the Super Bowl.

Whitney starred along with Kevin Costner in her film debut, "The Bodyguard," which made $411 million worldwide at the box office. IMAGES BELOW: Whitney's apparent drug addiction lead to front-page tabloid news. The pressure of life on the road took its toll on on the pop singer. Whitney answers claims of drug addiction during a 2002 interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer.

Whitney's aunt and personal assistant Mary Jones discovered her body floating upside down in a bathtub at a Beverly Hills hotel.




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