Review: Whitney (2018)

Director: Kevin Macdonald | 120 minutes | documentary, biography | Featuring: Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Merv Griffin, Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston, Nelson Mandela, Marvin Gaye, Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, Robyn Crawford, Gary Houston, Clive Davis, LA Reid, Dee Dee Warwick, Rickey Minor, Mary Jones, Michael Houstn, John Russell Houston Jr., Ray Watson, Lynne Volkman, Steven Gittelman, Alan Jacobs

More than 6 years ago, on February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston passed away. Drowned in a hotel bathroom after a drug overdose. The thirty years before she caused a furore with one of the most soulful voices America had ever produced. An endless stream of hits, with records that are still unbroken today, and a world-famous film (“The Bodyguard”, 1992) are her most important memory.
However, in addition to all the glory and honor that has fallen to her, the period before her death still appeals to the imagination of many: the lapsed superstar, who lived in a world full of drugs and bad friends. How did it get this far? How could Whitney Houston, the girl with the fantastic voice who was groomed for success from childhood, sink so far into the world of fame? What has changed her? How can we explain her fall from the immense pedestal she stood on? In “Whitney,” director Kevin Macdonald tries to answer these questions by looking at the rise and fall of the Newark diva.

In this he recognizes different periods, which are clearly depicted in the documentary. The transitions between the periods are characterized by the music of Houston, played over a compilation of atmospheric images. These atmospheric images come from the world in which Whitney lived, such as concerts and some backstage images, but also from the world where she came from: the violence in the ghettos of America. This is an interesting contrast, which occurs more often in this film. The world of the diva versus the world of the ordinary person. The life of Whitney Houston, the world artist, versus the life of “Nippy”; as she was called by her friends and family. Her family’s role in her success versus her family’s role in her downfall. The whole forms a picture of the duality of the diva, in which different roles and interests almost constantly compete for precedence.

For this project, Macdonald interviewed about 70 different people. Material was actually used from about 25 people. The interviews presented here are emotional, beautifully articulated and pure. The most striking example of this is the drama about Bobbi Kristina Brown, Houston’s daughter, who had died just before filming. The emotion surrounding that subject can be felt. The regret that the family let the “Houston Company” continue to run despite the problems Whitney faced is also evident. In addition, the film’s revelation about Houston’s youth, with allegations of abuse in the family, makes a big impression.

The whole results in a penetrating portrait of a woman who finds herself in a world with influences she could not resist and an environment that keeps pushing her to go further. The style in which Macdonald did this, with large amounts of archive material and the music of Houston as the backbone around which the story is told, makes it a documentary that is more than worth watching.

Despite the poignant story and tragedy of her life, there is one part that gives every viewer goosebumps; the music. It’s been thirty years since her breakthrough, but Whitney Houston’s voice still enraptures every viewer. Her mother already said it before Houston was known worldwide: “your music is timeless”. And this is shown once again in “Whitney”.

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