Documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield really grabbed the attention of the public and the media with his 1998 film Kurt & Courtney. Looking at the relationship between the late Nirvana frontman and his rock star wife, the documentary received a mixed reception but it put Broomfield in the spotlight. He followed that up with Biggie and Tupac in 2002 before changing his focus from music to serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003. Since then Broomfield has covered a variety of topics but his most recent film has him back in the headlines again.
Whitney: Can I Be Me takes a look at the tragic life and death of vocal powerhouse Whitney Houston. Rather than focusing on the sensational elements of her life, including her death in 2012, the film centres on Houston’s 1999 World Tour, which was the first sign that her life was spiralling out of control. The film features footage from the tour, both onstage and behind-the-scenes, that has never been seen before. During this time Houston was in the midst of a successful comeback with her 1998 album My Love Is Your Love, her first in 8 years, giving her a resurgence in popularity and delivering some of the biggest hits of her career.
Broomfield takes some time to establish Houston’s rapid rise to fame. She went from a youngster singing in church to a global superstar in a short period of time but the path wasn’t one that was particularly smooth. Whitney: Can I Be Me uncovers Houston’s struggle to be accepted by the black community after they attacked her for embracing pop music, believing she’d abandoned her roots. The film also brings to the fore the idea that Houston herself wasn’t overly pleased with the direction her music was going in and the little say she had over it during the early parts of her career.
Houston’s life follows a well-trodden path for a global superstar where she seemed to be on top of the world to the public but in private she was someone who struggled with confidence. Something the film does explore is where Houston’s addiction to drugs began and it clears up an often-cited false rumour that it was her husband Bobby Brown that got her hooked. Family members, friends and the people who surrounded her during her life share their views with a number of them highlighting Houston’s drug problems beginning when she was young and worsening as she tried to deal with the level of fame and success she achieved.
A crux of the film is the relationship Houston had with her best friend Robyn Crawford, who is portrayed here as one of the only people that tried to help the star. The two were subject to rumours that they were lovers and the film highlights that their closeness was a problem for the team around Houston and caused problems with Brown. From the stories shared and the footage from the world tour, it’s clear that Brown and Crawford couldn’t stand one another and the turning point in Houston’s spiral came when Crawford left her team following the tour as their friendship had broken down.
Whitney: Can I Be Me does go beyond that tour and it documents how Houston tried to turn things around for the sake of herself and her daughter. The break down of her marriage to Brown is credited here as the event that eventually tipped her over the edge and led to her accidental death in a hotel bathroom in 2012. It’s heart breaking to be able to visibly see Houston deteriorate throughout this film.
It’s not an easy watch but Whitney: Can I Be Me gives you a real insight into the troubled world of the globally loved diva. By the time you get to the end of the film, you realise just how inevitable Houston’s death really was but you’ll likely also feel angry at the number of people who watched her spiral without doing anything to try and help. Houston is one of the most gifted vocalists the world has seen and Whitney: Can I Be Me will give you a little more insight into the real Whitney Houston.
Director: Nick Broomfield Certificate: 15 Duration: 101 mins Released By: Dogwoof Release Date: 4th September 2017