Tor­tured love tri­an­gle at heart of a tragic por­trait

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

WHIT­NEY: CAN I BE ME ★★★★ Di­rected by Nick Broom­field, Rudi Dolezal Fea­tur­ing Whit­ney Hous­ton, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Bobby Brown, Robyn Craw­ford Cert 15A, limited re­lease, 105mins

There are few doc­u­men­tary film-mak­ers who many peo­ple can put a face and style to. Nick Broom­field is one of them. He’s the bum­bling English man who can be found on the re­spec­tive doorsteps of Suge Knight and Sarah Palin; the one with the boom mic in shot; the one who some­how wins over the re­luc­tant com­mu­nity de­picted in Tales of the Grim Sleeper (Broom­field’s fas­ci­nat­ing 2014 por­trait of the serial killer Lon­nie Franklin).

Iron­i­cally, this of­ten-im­i­tated house style is just one as­pect of Broom­field the film-maker. Since achiev­ing main­stream suc­cess with his con­spir­a­to­rial mu­sic docs, Kurt & Court­ney (1998) and Big­gie & Tu­pac (2002), he has pi­o­neered a new kind of schol­arly docu-drama – see Ghosts (2006) and Bat­tle

for Ha­ditha (2007) – which he calls “di­rect cin­ema”.

And now with a nod to Asif Ka­pa­dia’s Amy, he turns ar­chiv­ist for what will un­doubt­edly be the sad­dest pic­ture of 2017. Un­like the Ka­pa­dia film, Broom­field’s unau­tho­rised por­trait in­cludes var­i­ous new tes­ti­monies, from friends, bi­og­ra­phers, back­ing mu­si­cians and from David Roberts, her Welsh body­guard, as they re­count a life char­ac­terised by self-doubt, self-cen­sor­ship and self-de­struc­tion.

Draw­ing heav­ily from an un­fin­ished doc­u­men­tary about the 1999 My Love Is Your Love tour by Ger­man di­rec­tor Rudi Dolezal (who re­ceives a co-di­rec­tor credit), Can I Be Me chron­i­cles a most con­flicted ex­is­tence: it’s gospel ver­sus crack co­caine, les­bian­ism ver­sus Chris­tian dis­ap­proval.

Hous­ton, as many com­men­ta­tors note, was from the hood, yet her roots were con­sis­tently played down by her man­age­ment team. Any songs that were deemed too black were re­jected by her men­tor, Clive Davis. Her own com­mu­nity, in turn, re­jected her: in 1989, just as her sales fig­ures topped 25 mil­lion, she was roundly booed at the Soul Train awards. The ma­jor re­veal in the new film is the strange, em­bat­tled, bi­sex­ual love tri­an­gle be­tween Hous­ton, her hus­band Bobby Brown, and her as­sis­tant, Robyn Craw­ford.

“Bobby Brown and Robyn Craw­ford were like fire and ice. They hated each other,” says David Roberts, who turns out to be the doc’s MVP. After the 1999 tour, a con­cerned Roberts sent a de­tailed re­port to Hous­ton’s man­age­ment: he was promptly let go.

Hous­ton’s fi­nal death is the in­evitable re­sult of many smaller tragedies – the $100 mil­lion law­suit her fa­ther took against her from his deathbed; the drug ad­dic­tion; the code­pen­dency that she and Brown slid into – but maybe the kicker is the sub­se­quent death of Hous­ton’s only daugh­ter, Bobbi Kristina. “She never had a chance,” says David Roberts.

Car-crash gaw­pers may quib­ble that Broom­field has (re­spect­fully) avoided footage of the fi­nal years, but this re­mains a qui­etly dev­as­tat­ing por­trait of a mag­nif­i­cently loud tal­ent.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.