Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom/USA, 2017. Lafayette Films, Passion Pictures, Showtime Networks. Screenplay by Nick Broomfield. Cinematography by Sam Mitchell. Produced by Nick Broomfield, Marc Hoeferlin. Music by Nick Laird-Clowes. Film Editing by Marc Hoeferlin.
The phenomenon of Whitney Houston‘s career as pop star came to a devastating end when she was found dead of a drug overdose in a hotel room at the age of 48. Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s sensitive and intelligent biographical documentary gets this fact out of the way at the beginning of their film, ensuring that despite its frank honesty about the dark aspects of her life this isn’t an episode of a bad celebrity news show but a celebration of the time that the world got to benefit from this powerhouse singer’s talent. Despite having been sold as something of an African-American princess who came from privilege (early interviews always emphasized her being the daughter of a successful gospel singer and cousins with Dionne Warwick), Houston actually came from a rough neighbourhood in Newark, where she grew up and where she first encountered the drug use that would eventually claim her life. Album sales went through the roof from the beginning, then she went on to conquer the big screen (in The Bodyguard, which also included the best-selling soundtrack album of all time) and by the time of her last successfully completed tour in 1999, whose previously unseen footage is the anchor of this very haunting viewing experience, she was a show business giant to be reckoned with. As has happened too many times in the world of fame and fortune, Houston’s success also meant that her personal problems, which included a volatile relationship with husband Bobby Brown, were beyond the reach of the people who cared for her most. Broomfield’s fascinating film has a wealth of footage and brings back terrific memories of her best music, plus goes into Houston’s friendship with close friend Robyn Crawford in an intelligent manner that doesn’t apply the kind of tabloid sensationalism with which it has been most often treated up until now.