Whitney: Can I Be Me

 

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The life and times of Whitney Houston as recalled by those willing to talk


Whitney: Can I Be Me

 

The directorial credit for this documentary feature about Whitney Houston is shared by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal but with the former being better known than the latter one approaches this as a Nick Broomfield film. Since he also takes the writing credit and is a co-producer, that seems reasonable, but the surprising thing is that this work lacks his usual fingerprints. We do hear his voice asking questions, but not for a long time and then only marginally in passing. Not just because this is a biopic about an acclaimed singer whose life ended early and tragically, Whitney: Can I Be Me plays more like Asif Kapadia’s Amy than anything else in Broomfield's own oeuvre.

 

That comparison prompts awareness that this film is much less effective than Amy and that in this case the songs are made very much secondary to the story of Whitney Houston's life and career. As such, the film should please her fans despite the fact that the story is one of success followed by decline as her life fell apart. That story told with much historical footage is presented through the words of friends, of employees who were close to her and of musical colleagues.

 

What we hear contrasts Whitney's religious beliefs with her repeated indulgence in drugs leading to her low self-esteem (the film's most memorable moment comes when, asked which of her vices she regards as being the real devil, she responds by choosing instead a one word answer: 'me'). Elsewhere voices are heard criticising her powerful and influential mother Cissy (also a singer) and suggesting that Whitney was bisexual, thus giving extra tension to the hostility between her husband of some years, the R & B performer Bobby Brown, and her long-time confidante and personal assistant Robyn Crawford, a lesbian. In past works, Broomfield has become noted for the persistence of his burrowing interrogations and, while we can draw conclusions from what we learn here, we miss hearing directly from such figures as Brown, Robyn and Whitney's mother who feature only in old footage. They may have refused to participate, but their absence reduces the impact of the film even if such interviewees as Kenneth Reynolds, the marketing executive of Arista Records, are forthright in their comments.

 

There is also old interview material that enables us to ponder the words of Whitney Houston herself. She may not be as memorable in her comments as Amy Winehouse was, but she was not without some understanding of herself and of being caught up in a career that involved projecting a personality often at the expense of being her real self. On being asked if success had changed her, she points out that it is not success that can endanger you but fame.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, David Roberts, Kenneth Reynolds, Cissy Houston.

 

Dir Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, Pro Nick Broomfield and Marc Hoeferlin, Screenplay Nick Broomfield, Ph Sam Mitchell, Ed Marc Hoeferlin, Music Nick Laird-Clowes.

 

Lafayette Films/Passion Pictures/Showtime Networks-Dogwoof.
105 mins. UK/USA. 2017. Rel: 16 June 2017. Cert. 15.