Whitney "Can I Be Me" - This Tragic Rock Doc Rocks
Dir: Nick Broomfield, Rudi Doezal
Starring Whitney Houston
There’s a great moment near the beginning of Nick Broomfield’s latest music doc. It’s Whitney on stage in Europe in 1999, late into the show and it’s that moment in I Will Always Love You – you know the moment – that silence before she comes back in at full throttle. She stares out at the crowd, hears the cheers, wipes herself down with a towel, really plays that most pregnant of pauses. And then lets rip with the most amazing, wonderful voice, in all its undeniable glory, with all its power and purity. It’s essential the movie start this way as it serves to remind just what an amazing and singular talent Houston was. It’s important to be reminded of this, as what follows in this thoroughly engrossing documentary often borders on tragedy.
Making extensive use of previously unseen footage from that 1999 tour (co-director Dolezal chronicled the tour but Houston’s camp decided not to finish the project) Broomfield takes a very conventional bio-doc approach here, opting for a fairly straight chronology, intercut with archive footage, and numerous talking heads – from record company folk to long time friends and musicians. Particularly entertaining is her British former bodyguard David Roberts, who did everything Kevin Costner did in the film with Whitney – except sleep with her. (You can’t help but feel he thinks the movie is really his story.)
What becomes clear from the start is how early on Whitney seemed destined for doom – from smoking weed with her brothers as a teenager to increased substance abuse courtesy of hubby Bobby Brown. The movie also explores the nature of Houston’s rapid and enormous success – how legendary record label honcho Clive Davis positioned her as a pop star rather than a black artist, something that saw her booed at the Soul Train Awards, an event that clearly had a huge impact on her and her subsequent decline.
Can I Be Me manages to be both intimate but never salacious, whilst effectively positioning Houston into a broader social context, as well as placing her in the overall picture of rock history and its numerous victims. The archive footage is a joy to see, just as the inevitability of its conclusion is still shocking, saddening and ultimately simply wasteful.
It does however remind us of two things – firstly, Whitney Houston was a genuine and quite brilliant talent.
And secondly, Bobby Brown was always a dick.
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