A bright star lost too soon: “Whitney”
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
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.”
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.
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