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Whitney review - a stunning tribute to the one of the world's most troubled stars


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Verdict: a brutal but brilliant homage to a true icon.

Kevin Macdonald's Whitney (2018) is one of the best biopic documentaries in years, going down in documentary history with recent hits such as Blackfish (2013) and Amy (2015).

Mcdonald's incredible Whitney tracks the life of one of the best vocalists to have ever walked the earth, providing unrestricted access to the people who picked her up, the people who influenced her, and the people who dragged her down.

The documentary is made up of a combination of exclusive interviews with her friends and family (including her mother, brothers and ex-husband), home recordings, and live shows and TV appearances. Houston's own voice can be heard constantly, almost as a narrator to the film, clearly taken from interviews throughout her life, striking a haunting tone throughout the entire film.

Mcdonald is brave in his filmmaking, deciding to take risks instead of opting for simplistic conventions such as plain transitions and a strict chronological order. With the narrative constantly chopping and changing and bold fast transitions, his filmmaking style seemingly fits the story of a woman that was so much larger than life. The film follows a relentless spiralling of Houston's health and personal circumstances, revealing her troubles with domestic abuse, her husband's infidelity and her infamous use of drugs.

The documentary starts with homemade clips of Whitney, a young, pretty, and astoundingly talented girl, singing in her local church. With the notorious images of her in her final years solidified deep in the minds of the audience, the opening scenes of her performing in church with so much passion, energy, and class, are simply gut-wrenching.

When interviewing her ex-husband Bobby Brown, Mcdonald reaches a stumbling block as Brown astonishingly refuses to acknowledge Houston's drug use. Brown, and much like most of Houston's supposed friends and family, fail to come out of the film in a good light, all of them appearing to have leeched off of the star's success.

The same is to be said of some of Houston's patriarchal figures, such as her own father who siphoned funds from Whitney for years, and L.A. Reid, an executive at Houston's label, who denied any knowledge of 'addiction' when asked about Whitney's drug use.

He may have found an incredibly interesting subject matter, but it is Mcdonald's line of enquiries when questioning his interviewees that acts as the solid foundation of the documentary. One of his most successful lines of questioning is his yearning for answers regarding Houston's drug use, and by doing so, getting unprecedented responses from the interviewees. Mcdonald questions Houston's brother as to why he felt he needed to turn to drugs in the first place, to which he reveals his experiences of child abuse growing up, a fate that Whitney has been alleged to share.

To Mcdonald's credit, he leaves no stone unturned, heightening the incredible levels of access into Whitney's life he gains. The film's most disturbing moment is when he visits the very room Houston died in, even going to show the bath that she drowned in. His filmmaking choices are remarkably uncomfortable but are exquisite in revealing the true story of one of earths biggest stars.

The film also takes a lot of notice of the upbringing of Bobbi Kristina Brown, the daughter of Houston and Bobby, whose death has been stated as an unfortunate consequence of her mother's success. Receiving input from Houston's family and friends, Mcdonald uncovers the poor upbringing of Kristina received, a side effect of Whitney's success.

The films saddest moment is its closing credits, a clip of Whitney's first TV performance of 'Home' with the credits rolling on top. The clips juxtaposition to the incredibly intense scenes following on from Houston's death is so simple and remarkably harrowing, truly hitting home about the demise of such a beautiful talent.

Mcdonald's unprecedented access to the Whitney's life provides a brutal but fair tribute to one of earths brightest stars, examining the factors that affected her circumstances leading to her untimely demise. Mcdonald produces an excellent documentary in the form of Whitney, performing a justice to this incredible talent taken far too soon. 

Whitney releases in cinemas on July 5th, distributed by Altitude. 

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