Whitney – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

This emotionally gripping documentary about the personal and professional life of the late Whitney Houston strives to present a balanced depiction of the six-time Grammy winner’s rise and fall from stardom.

Whitney Houston from the documentary Whitney. Photo copyright 2018 Roadside Attractions.

Comparisons to 2017’s Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me are inevitable. The newer film covers the same ground of Whitney’s ghetto beginnings, vocal training by her mother, singing with the church choir, meteoric rise to fame, marriage to Bobby Brown, and fall from grace – along with the family, friends, and lovers along the way.

Whispered Rumors

The new film, Whitney also brings up the long-whispered rumors of bisexuality, but drops a bombshell late in the film that was previously unknown to the general public: Whitney was the victim of childhood sexual abuse by a relative. Through compassionate storytelling and precise editing, we learn of Whitney’s self-described demons that have haunted her dreams since her youth when she was known as “Nippy,” instead of by her given name, Whitney.

It’s apparent from her self-destructive behavior during the final two decades of her life (she died at age 48 from drowning in a bathtub while under the influence of drugs and alcohol) that inner demons plagued her waking hours as well. Those closest to the singer, her mother (Cissy Houston), aunt (Mary Jones), ex-husband (Bobby Brown), her two brothers, her hairstylist, and others share their memories about her talent and troubles.

1980’s Zeitgeist

Combining archival footage, original interviews, backstage home movies, and rare performances, this documentary offers a variety of viewpoints that go beyond her obvious talent and beauty. The film also is a tribute to the early 1980’s zeitgeist with commercials, news reports, and pop culture influences depicting the years when Whitney made headlines for her accomplishments, such as a starring role in The Bodyguard, rather than her later drug use, fights with her husband, and failed attempts to reignite her career.

While friends, family, and fans can argue over whether her tragic downfall and death came from drug abuse, the pressures of fame, Bobby Brown’s influence, sexual identity conflicts, childhood sexual abuse, or a combination of these elements, nearly everyone can agree Whitney Houston had an extraordinarily beautiful voice and exceptional range that deservedly took her to the top of the charts. Whitney answers most questions about the singer’s life, but like every good documentary also raises new ones.

Whitney

  • This documentary reveals never-before-seen footage of the late Whitney Houston, both on-stage and behind the scenes for a glamorous and gritty look at the singer’s life.
  • Stars: Whitney Houston (archive footage), Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown (archive footage), Cissy Houston, Clive Davis, Gary Houston, Mary Jones, Robyn Crawford (archive footage)
  • Director: Kevin Macdonald
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language and drug content)

 

Music Sidebar at the 2016 Florida Film Festival

By Leslie C. Halpern

As in previous years, the 25th Annual Florida Film Festival, produced by Enzian Theater and held from April 8-17 throughout Central Florida, offers a music sidebar, in addition to the American Independent Competition, celebrity guests, special events, food films, midnight movies, family programming, international films, Florida films, and retro films. This year’s music sidebar presents three full-length documentaries and one short film focusing on music industry professionals, who are innovative and interesting, yet not necessarily as well known or financially compensated as many of their musical peers.

Presenting Princess Shaw. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Presenting Princess Shaw. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Presenting Princess Shaw

(Screens Monday, April 11, 4:15 p.m. – 5:50 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and Thursday, April 14, 6:30 p.m. – 8:20 p.m. at Enzian Theater.)

Israeli director Ido Haar introduces audiences to Princess Shaw (Samantha Montgomery), a New Orleans woman who longs to be an Internet singing sensation. She posts her a cappella clips from nearly deserted open mic nights on YouTube, hoping to go viral. The 38-year-old caregiver works with the elderly in her regular job, but dreams of sharing her music with the world. Unbeknownst to her, an Israeli musician (Kutiman [Ophir Kutiel]) living on a kibbutz has discovered her online and creates new music with bits and pieces from YouTube videos by various poeple, including those of Princess Shaw. This new musical collaboration may finally provide her with the audience she’s been seeking for so long.

  • Run Time: 80 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Unrated
  • Additional Note: This film is preceded by the 17-minute short from director Gabriel Sunday, Hi, How are you Daniel Johnston?
Danny Says. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Danny Says. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Danny Says

(Screens Monday, April 11, 9:15 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. and Friday, April 15, 9:15 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.)

Directed by Brendan Toller (I Need That Record! The Death [or Possible Survival] of the Independent Record Store), this film examines the life, times, and jobs of Danny Fields, known for his work as a music manager, director of publicity at Elektra Records, and rock journalist. Having worked with many groundbreaking groups, including the Doors, Cream, Lou Reed, Nico, the Stooges, and the Ramones, Fields has supported music and musicians as a behind-the-scenes icon for decades. This film includes appearances by Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, John Cameron Mitchell, Iggy Pop, Tommy Ramone, and Jann Wenner.

  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Unrated
  • Additional Note: Florida Premiere
Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows. Photo courtesy of Florida Film Festival.

Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows

(Screens Saturday, April 16, 4:15 p.m. – 5:55 p.m. and Sunday, April 17, 12:30 pm. – 2:10 p.m., both at Regal Winter Park Village.)

Chicago R&B singer and guitarist Syl Johnson was a sensation in the 1960s with his hits “Come On Sock It to Me,” “Different Strokes,” and “Is It Because I’m Black.” Yet, despite undeniable talent, record deals, lively stage presence, and a full schedule of touring, Johnson faded to obscurity rather than soared to the heights of his musical rival, Al Green. Leaving the music business to explore other options for supporting his family, Johnson (now close to 80 years old according to one of his daughters) made an unexpected comeback in recent years through hundreds of rap and hip hop artists sampling his music and being forced (with the threat of lawsuits) to give him the proper credit and compensation. Director Rob Hatch-Miller calls upon RZA, Prince Paul, Peanut Butter Wolf, Jazzy Jay, Jonathan Lethem, Otis Clay, and Syleena Johnson to help share Syl’s story of one man finally getting what he thinks he’s due from the music industry.

  • Run Time: 84 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: Unrated
  • Additional Note: Southeast Premiere

For more information about the Florida Film Festival and a full list of films, visit the official website.