When she burst on the scene in the mid-1980’s, Whitney Houston had the reputation as a quiet, church-going girl, always ready with a shy smile and a kind word. Little did we know, drugs were already part of her life. As her brother Michael tells it, his gift to Whitney on her 16th birthday was an introduction to marijuana and cocaine, both of which she quickly decided she liked it. The most shocking revelation, that she was sexually molested as a child by her cousin Dee Dee Warwick, the sister of pop singer Dionne Warwick. Houston’s half-brother Gary Garland also claims to have been abused by Dee Dee, who died in 2008.
The allegations are backed up by Mary Jones, Houston’s aunt and personal assistant, the woman who found Whitney’s body in the bathtub. She says Whitney told her about the about the abuse, but never told her mother. If true, this could help explain why drugs were an attractive outlet for her. In an archival interview at the top of the film, Whitney talks about a recurring nightmare of being chased by a giant who represents her personal demons. “When I wake up, I’m always exhausted from running,” she says.
All of this was going on as her 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston was a smash, yielding several hits, including “How Will I Know” and “Saving All My Love for You,” and a beautiful cover of “The Greatest Love of All.” With that came Grammy Awards and three more albums for Arista, under the guidance of Clive Davis. Then, on January 27, 1991, at Super Bowl XXV, in Tampa, Florida Houston, with Operation Desert Storm underway, sang what might be the best rendition of the national anthem ever recorded.
A movie career soon followed, which included 1992’s The Bodyguard, a romantic drama in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves) the soundtrack to which has sold over 42 million copies worldwide and contains Whitney’s mega-hit, “I Will Always Love You.”
During that massive success, she married Bobby Brown. While the couple seemed happy for a while, it marked a turning point in her life, the turmoil that had been a private matter began to seep into her public life; Brown was jealous and possessive. Houston made her career secondary to playing wife to Bobby and mother to Bobbi Kristina, their only child. A troubled divorce, subsequent vocal difficulties and comeback tour that wasn’t, all took their toll.
Macdonald’s film was made with the support and participation of Houston’s family, but he doesn’t just skim the surface; he draws out some long-hidden truths. As family members, friends and acquaintances of Whitney speak, the prevailing emotional is sadness. Sadness that a woman so incredibly talented, seemed to lose her sense of self-worth.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this mix of new interviews and archival footage looks pretty good. As expected, the archival footage varies in quality. Some looks good, while other clips are dodgy. The new footage is visually pleasing throughout, with solid colors and notable sharpness. Viewers should be pleased with this presentation.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack provides a lively experience, given the many clips of Whitney’s performances, both live and on video. Songs spread to the side and rear speakers. Stereo delineation is positive throughout and the overall soundfield is enveloping. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Macdonald and Producer Simon Chinn: Both sit together in this running, screen-specific commentary. The two discuss the film’s development, aspects of the production, and background information. Macdonald offers context for a lot of events that happened in Houston’s life, along the way, and more.
- Photo Gallery: Ten images total.
- Digital Copy
Movie title: Whitney (2018)
Director(s): Kevin Macdonald
Actor(s): Whitney Houston , Bobby Brown , Bobbi Kristina Brown, Cissy Houston , Gary Houston
Genre: Music, Documentary, Biography