Thursday 12 July 2018

Film: 'Whitney'

I didn't see Nick Broomfield's film, 'Can I Be Me?' on the same subject which was released last Summer. Majority opinion seems to be that this one is better.

Before going on I'd better state where I stand on the late Superstar. If you're not interested in my personal views on her singing and its consequences you may prefer to leap the next section to over the second line below. 

I was never a fervent fan of Whitney Houston's 'in-yer-face' singing style, though never actively disliking her either. I did enormously like her monster hit single 'I Wanna Dance.....' (1987) but there's very little after that which appealed on anything like that scale - and that particular number is coloured for me anyway by its strong resonances with the heady disco days of that era. However, although her style of singing was hardly original it was super-influential and (alas!) permeates the singing of stars and wannabes right up to today. 
I never watch those omnipresent 'talent' TV shows but whenever I accidentally come across one it's some kid yelling her/his head off - just like the insufferable Adele has also made her name. And on these shows whenever one of these would-be multi-millionaire superstars starts bellowing like as if to prove "Look - I've got lungs!" the judges turn to each other with open-mouthed, wide-eyed wonder, astonished that they could be in the presence of such, er, 'talent'. Balderdash, I say! And, a lot of this is due to trying to mimic the style of the subject of this blog - singing 'around' the note (as it's written on the page) with faux-sophisticated warbles up and down rather than steadily holding the note as the song demands. And btw: why do they always have to fill in the gaps of their 'singing' with all those 'whoa -whoas' and 'Yeah....BAY-BEE?!!!' I just want to shout '"Oh, just STFU!!!" If there's a single bar's silence in the song they must fill it in with these meaningless interjections as if they think if they stopped singing for a split second we'd fall asleep - which we probably would have done anyway were it not for the unholy din. I've said before and repeat it now - if one of these kids were to be asked to sing a 'classic' song exactly as it was written by, say, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser - or even Lloyd Webber (why not?) with absolutely no embellishments, I bet they couldn't do it. No, they need to - what they would call - 'improvise'. HAH! 
I don't think for one moment that Whitney Houston was the sole originator of the manner in which she chose to sing, but I do believe that she, more than any other identifiable source, is the one who has set the template of the style which has ignobly endured for more than three decades. 
If I write any more on the subject of modern-day singing I have fear for my blood pressure, so let's return to the subject matter:-


The film is basically a 'talking heads' feature with interspersed clips, some of which we've seen before but also a lot of unseen material - as well as new interviews made for this very film with family members, acquaintances, musicians, music industry bigwigs etc. The family includes mother Cissie, who tells us little that's new, it being clear that she was always highly protective of her daughter - Bobby Brown, who is anything but forthcoming and likewise clams up, especially in refusing to talk about drugs on the grounds that it had "nothing to do with the story". Yeah, right! Just like he himself, I suppose. Who seriously expected him to incriminate himself anyway? Then there are her two brothers and a half brother, all of whom are more open than the first two. 
The matter of her (allegedly?) having been sexually abused as a child only comes up very late in the film and is hardly resolved by the end.

We see her ascension to superstar-dom on a worldwide scale, then her fall from grace when accused of selling out her Afro-American roots by performing 'white' music. Her recovery from that major blip, her ill-judged marriage eventually ending in divorce after the seeds of her destruction had been sown, her attempts at getting clean of drugs through rehabs, the problems between her and her growing daughter, the appalling sight of her performing while skinny as a rake with arms like twigs, she and her husband are seen off their faces on drugs and alcohol, and her belated repeated attempts to get 'clean' which came too late to prevent the catastrophic end we all remember.  

At two hours long the film does stretch things a bit but it's trying to get everything in even though there are significant gaps as already mentioned - such as that of Robyn Crawford and the non-speak of Bobby Brown.

Scottish director Kevin Macdonald ('Last King of Scotland' - 2006) has created quite a compelling film. Much moreso than I was expecting. For myself, not being a fan, it held up well, so maybe Houston's genuine admirers will get even more out of this than I did......................6.5.

(IMDb............6.9 / Rotten Tomatoes.................7.6) 


  1. We lived in New Jersey years ago, home to Whitney. A coworker of my ex-husband knew her, and I remember him discussing her at some party (this was at the height of her popularity probably); I believe his sister had gone to school w/Whitney and Robyn. Long story short: it was evidently a very well-known "secret" that Robyn and Whitney were/had been a couple. I believe, sadly, that it was Whitney's mother who was not happy about it; it seemed that the family believed that Whitney being bisexual would hurt her career. I always thought perhaps her mother was worried more about her own career (Cissy H. was a big gospel singer at one point).

    And that is my Whitney story for you.

    My daughter and I are going to see Mama Mia...I am not expecting too much, except for a fun afternoon w/my child...

    1. The interview segments here with W's mother lack anything revelatory, though it's clear that she had been highly protective of her child. I can well believe her hostility to Robyn - as was also one of her brothers who made no secret of his view of R's 'corrupting' influence.
      There was here quite a fair bit about Cissie's gospel-singing and her failed attempt to make a name for herself in that field, a possible reason for why she pushed her daughter forward as her 'substitute'.

      I'm looking forward to 'Mamma Mia 2'. It looks promising from the trailer, and if it's anything near as good as the original was I'll not be complaining - also that they do full justice to the songs, again. I have faith that they will.

    2. After I wrote the above note, I literally spent the rest of the night humming Abba songs!

    3. So many of them earworm-y aren't they? And what I especially like is that, even though English is, of course, not their mother tongue, their lyrics are so good, better than MOST pop lyricists with whom I'm familiar. ABBA forever! - and ever!

  2. I saw .Can I Be Me' and this seems to tell the same story with the addition of ALLEGED child molestation.
    Also,I heard it was Whitney who turned Bobby onto the harder drugs when they met.
    Whatever the truth,her life was a mess from start to tragic finish.

    1. I doubt if there's anything additional to last year's film in this that's crucial enough to mean you really ought to see it, Bob. It may only be better constructed.
      I didn't pick up any indication about Whitney turning Bobby onto harder drugs, which is a most interesting turnaround when he's been getting all the blame since. Perhaps he only deserves three -quarters it.
      The child molestation was only shocking (not a complete surprise anyway) when it was revealed who it was who W claimed had abused her.
      As you imply, her life got into such a state that it would have needed super-human powers to get it back on the rails again, utterly out of reach for someone like her do it alone - or anyone at all. A true real-life tragedy.

  3. I did enjoy some of her music and a few "bits" from her movies, but I think I'm ready to let the sleeping dog lay.

    A tragic life none the less.

    1. It's life to take lessons from, M.M. - maybe less for the likes of you and me but certainly for those younger aspiring pop-dreamers.

  4. I did not leap over to the next section but read your personal views. So happy to find someone who shares my views. Stopped watching those talent TV shows years ago when I also noticed those annoying expressions on the faces of the judges when these performers began their bellowing.

    1. I'm delighted that you're still there, Paul. I was seriously concerned that something might have happened to you, it having been so long. Perhaps something did, and if so I'm not going to pry. But I'm now ever so happy to find you back again. Welcome! - as you ever will be.

      I really let it all out in my mid-blog rant on the singing style of the present, which all new 'talent' is expected to follow as though there is no other way though, for example, Madonna still doesn't, and nor does Lady GaGa, to name just a couple. It's just something that gets me unhealthily enraged and was the sole cause of my giving up entirely on pop music in around 2005 after a decades-long obsession with following and recording songs from the charts. If only Whitney had been aware of how influential she would be in negative fashion, no less post-death as pre. She might even have been flattered.
      I felt better after getting it off my chest, but it was only temporary relief as I can feel it even now raising my B.P. ;-)