Whew!! This one took a lot out of me. The documentary that is a MUST SEE before it leaves the theater is “Whitney”. Orchestrated by Oscar winning director Kevin MacDonald, this is the most riveting edge of your seat piece on an icon this reviewer has seen in quite some time. Went into the theater with an open mind and a hope that my image/preconceived notions of Whitney Houston I’ve had since childhood would be extinguished.
This film did the job it came to do. Every microscopically detailed question you’ve ever had about Whitney Houston is answered in this film. From her upbringing, how her famous mom trained her for stardom all her life, to her relationship with friend Robin (who was rumored to be more than a friend) and how pivotal she was in Whitney’s beginnings.
You see flashes of Whitney evolving from up and comer to superstar, and the difficulties that brought to her home life. You see Bobby Brown and get an entire different perspective on their marriage and everything else. When I got the opportunity to speak with the mind behind this calculated moment, I didn’t wanna take up much of his time (knowing he had a thousand journalists to speak to after me), so I hit Kevin MacDonald with the questions/observations that mattered the most to me after seeing the film:
DELUX: Before we start I just want you to know that numerous points in this documentary demands a tear to be shed. It felt peaks and valleys of joy and bliss and sorrow and loss.
KM: Thank you. It’s funny, the cumulative impact of it, just seeing that beautiful girl. As she ages and kind of destroyed in a way. It’s incredibly touching. You wish you could step in and do something.
DELUX: LITERALLY!! I wanted to ask why Robin wasn’t interviewed in the film?
KM: She was literally the one person who refused to be a part of the film. I really wanted her in it. She contemplated it. I talked to her, she thought about it, in the end she decided not to take part. It was a real bad day when she turned us down.
DELUX: Shame, because she seemed to be a real cornerstone to this documentary. The montages of Whitney’s rise showed Robins evolution as well. Did you not get the feeling that if Robin was around for longer, things would’ve been different?
KM: I tried not to be evasive in their relationship, especially since Robin wasn’t getting interviewed. My understanding from others I’ve spoken to and documents I’ve seen shows they were great friends beginning in high school. When Whitney’s parents separated, she was so devastated by it that she moved Robin in, who became her best friend and kind of band mate. I think Robin stuck around out of friendship and loyalty. She was doing well as Whitney’s executive assistant. I think it’s a tragedy that they lost touch.
DELUX: What made you give those waves of montages in the film? It felt like a burst of life that we got to tag along for.
KM: Yeah, I wanted to give this feeling of excitement and energy of that time as well. Little bits of the explosion of hip-hop at the time, little bits of Ronald Reagan, Madonna, you know just enough to show the timeframe and set the tone. Sometimes you don’t have time to set the context really talk it out so it’s about giving the audience these little tasters of the era. It sets off all different emotions in you, the viewer, without having to rationalize it. And I think the best bits of Annie movie are the ones with music and images and no words. Obviously, a documentary has plenty of words, but I wanted to have some moments of pure Cinema. It’s amazing when you had Whitney’s voice as the backdrop.
DELUX: I love it. Now I wanted to also ask… How much of a toll did making this film take on YOU?!? I mean going through all the footage and….
KM: This was a really hard thing to do. I’ve made a lot of films, and this was the hardest one. Because there was so much secrecy and mystery around her, so many people not wanting to tell the truth. Also, Whitney herself was such a mystery. She didn’t give that many interviews. Maybe if she did, she would do puff pieces; more publicity than honest talk.
So, it’s very hard to get under her skin—and that was the challenge of this. It was also hard for me emotionally to deal with Whitney when watching footage of her making herself very unlikeable. Seeing footage of her really high with Bobby, being unappealing. Then when you get to her daughter Bobbi Kristina, and what went on there, you get the feeling of her being a bad parent. But at the same time, she’s the hero of my movie—I want her to be the movie star. That was one of the hardest parts to emotionally reconcile.
DELUX: Basically, Whitney Houston is one of the greatest heroes you’ve had the opportunity to make a movie about and you balance showing the fall of your main character while maintaining the nobility.
KM: That’s EXACTLY it. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
*Hold for applause*
DELUX: Appreciated. Now, Bobby Brown gets the lion share of blame for Whitney’s later drug usage in the public eye….
KM: I think that’s totally incorrect. I believe the movie shows he was not responsible. Whitney was already using came from a culture of usage. Bobby may not be perfect, but I don’t think he’s this villain that everyone makes him out to be. He was just young..
DELUX: And I think you showed his insecurities in such an elegant way. To me, Bobby Brown was the precursor to Usher: RnB heartthrob of the late 80s hip hop generation. Then he married the most famous singer on Earth—and his career was dwindling while her Star was still climbing….
KM: Well, I think you’re right about his insecurity. As you can see from the interview, when we talk about drug usage, he is just a very insecure person who constantly needs to have his ego boosted. He’s not ready to be mature and honest, and reflective on all of this. He’s just not ready. I think she truly loved Bobby and could’ve left if she wanted to. But he was what she wanted, at the time. He could act like an idiot every now and then, but I don’t think he’s to blame.
We spoke on a few more things that I would consider SPOILERS, so you don’t get those pieces. What I will say to you is, I’ve never left a screening with teary eyed critics hugging each other in solidarity of what we just experienced. This is MUST SEE. If you see no other documentary in theaters, see this one.
On that note, i will leave you with wise words sung Ms. Houston, written by Dolly Parton: “And I wish you joy, and happiness. But above all this, I wish you love”.
Talk soon, Knuckleheads.