Whitney: Can I Be Me
- James Mottram
- 12 June 2017
Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal helm a soulful study of the late singing sensation
Nick Broomfield's latest documentary, about the life and death of singing sensation Whitney Houston, starts at the end. Accompanying aerial shots of the Beverly Hilton hotel is the 911 call made in February 2012 when Houston was discovered unconscious in her bathtub. But if this suggests Broomfield and co-director Rudi Dolezal are going down a lurid rabbit hole, think again.
Similarly, Whitney: Can I Be Me does not pursue the conspiracy theory path trodden by Broomfield's earlier music docs, Kurt & Courtney and Biggie & Tupac. Perhaps this is why Broomfield doesn't appear on screen, with his trademark boom mic (and can only briefly be heard asking a question or two). The format is fairly traditional – talking heads, archive footage – as the film paints a portrait of the woman who won seven Grammys and sold 200 million records.
From her childhood as daughter of a gospel singer, to her mega-success in the 1980s, to meeting Bobby Brown, to his descent into heavy Class A drug use, Broomfield and Dolezal trace Whitney's journey with sensitivity and assurance. When footage plays of an emotional Houston singing her torch song 'I Will Always Love You', on what would prove to be her last live tour, it's a real lump-in-the-throat moment.
Arguably, the film is not quite as overwhelmingly powerful as Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse doc, Amy – that felt more immediate, more personal. Still, there are revealing interviews here, not least with Houston's security man David Roberts (who jokes that her hit movie The Bodyguard was entirely inspired by their experience, aside from them sleeping together).
Tellingly, Broomfield and Dolezal don't speak to Houston's former husband, bad boy musician Brown, or her best friend / personal assistant Robyn Crawford. Puzzle pieces are missing then, but it's still a soulful study of one of music's great fallen angels.
Selected release from Fri 16 Jun.