“And when the night falls, loneliness calls.” A stark spotlight sheds light on the turbulent life of one of music’s brightest stars in Kevin Macdonald’s new documentary Whitney. The trailer calls out this lyric, and the film dives into previously unseen footage alongside frank interviews with those closest to the singer to put it into context. Since Whitney Houston’s tragic death by accidental drowning in 2012, there has been no shortage of media scrutiny; yet Whitney’s level of inner circle access brings about the most intimate account to date – and some crushing new truths.
The world will probably be able to tell anyone about Houston’s life, her death, her music. But interviewees including her mother Cissy Houston and ex-husband Bobby Brown will tell them about the woman they simply called “Nippy”. Brown insists drugs didn’t kill her, and Mrs Houston reminisces on teaching her daughter how to sing: “From the heart, mind, guts.” Meanwhile, Whitney’s brothers introduce her to drugs at age 16 and assistant Mary Jones painfully describes the last 30 minutes of her life. Multiple narratives at every life stage allow for the audience to consider their own conclusions – this is something a Wikipedia article could never detail. The pragmatic documentary aims to be truthful and insightful, expertly utilising dozens of home videos such as the young singer in her church choir or humorous backstage ranting about Paula Abdul – all the way through to being unmistakably high on cocaine. The moments are raw and almost too intimate, feeling like yet another intrusion on her personal life. Visually mapping a beloved icon’s ascent and self-destruction is hard viewing too, but ultimately it encapsulates both the magic and vulnerabilities of a very human, multifaceted megastar.
122 minutes is a long but necessary running time, documenting but not stagnating on everything from being sued by her father, fame proliferation with The Bodyguard, her sexuality and alleged secret lover, her daughter’s own heartbreakingly mirrored death. The film further drops the bombshell that Houston was sexually abused as a child, and the timeline jumps around as revelations begin to show earlier segments in different lights.
Whitney is thoughtfully edited beyond a standard documentary, packing further poignancy through its social commentary of Black America in the 80s-90s and what Houston’s music represented – both triumphs and tension. The soundtrack also makes for a spine-tingling celebration throughout, with soaring vocals from archived performances a reminder of greatness.
The film concludes by replaying a teenage Houston’s first TV appearance, filled with fresh talent and starry-eyed hope. The audience may hope that history can somehow be rewritten, but as I Have Nothing plays out to credits, they will at least be grateful for the music and the sensational voice she shared.
Whitney is released nationwide on 6th July 2018.
Watch the trailer for Whitney here: