How a Director Uncovered Whitney Houston’s Secret Pain
In one of the many troubling moments within the fresh documentary “Whitney,” a record label executive, Joey Arbagey, describes what which was like trying to make an album with Whitney Houston around the turn of the century. One of the biggest stars within the globe, just a few years past her triumphant peak starring in “The Bodyguard” (the 1992 hit which spawned a 17-million-selling soundtrack), she was mired in drug addiction, emotionally battered, creatively adrift.
Mr. Arbagey recounts the many months wasted, the millions of dollars spent, just trying to get her into the studio for a usable session. “Deep down,” he says, “she was a girl in pain.”
This kind of pain runs throughout “Whitney,” the first film to be authorized by the Houston estate (another documentary, “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” arrived last year, without the participation of Houston’s family along with with limited access to her recordings). Directed by Kevin Macdonald — whose credits include the Oscar-winning documentary “One Day in September” along with the acclaimed drama “The Last King of Scotland” — the movie examines the phenomenon along with tragedy of Houston, perhaps the greatest pure singer of her generation, whose tabloid-fodder decline reached its seemingly inevitable end with her 2012 death in a Los Angeles hotel bathroom at the age of 48.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Macdonald — who was brought into the project by Houston’s agent, Nicole David — said which he was certainly aware of Houston’s music when he was growing up however wasn’t particularly a fan. “which felt like an interesting challenge,” he said, “producing a serious film about somebody who was not taken seriously.”
He discovered a life full of betrayal along with disappointment, via both of her parents having affairs during her youth to being booed at the 1989 Soul Train Awards when the Rev. Al Sharpton accused her of ignoring her black fan base. which’s a story in striking contrast to the carefully manicured image of her early days — “the prom queen of soul,” as a newscaster chirps in one clip.
The documentary, which was released This kind of month, has received largely positive reviews, with some critics especially impressed by the unsparing portrayal given which the film was sanctioned by Houston’s estate.
Pat Houston, who is actually married to the singer’s half brother Gary Garland-Houston along with is actually the executor of her estate, said which which was important for the family to speak openly about Whitney’s struggles, including her drug use along with her relationship with longtime friend, assistant along with rumored lover, Robyn Crawford. “Her family had to share her with the globe along with protect her image,” she said in a telephone interview. “Always having to walk on eggshells” when talking about her — “which’s not a way to live.”
Toward the end of “Whitney” comes a revelation which is actually presented as a possible key to the singer’s suffering: She along with her half brother were molested as children by their cousin Dee Dee Warwick, a moderately successful R&B singer along with the sister of Dionne Warwick. During the course of production, Mr. Macdonald began to suspect which there might be abuse in Houston’s past.
“As I looked at footage of Whitney, she seemed uncomfortable in herself, physically uncomfortable,” he said. “which reminded me of people who had some childhood trauma.” He found a BBC radio interview via the 1980s in which she expressed her anger at child abusers. “which makes me crazy when people treat children badly,” she said.
The director spoke to addiction specialists, trying to understand why Houston along with her brothers, Gary along with Michael, all battled advanced drug problems. A year into the process, in his third interview with Gary, Mr. Macdonald broke through. “Gary said which the origin of his own addiction, along with the reason he could not fully heal, was the recurring images of when he was abused as a child.”
Two weeks before the finished edit of the film was due for the Cannes Film Festival, Houston’s aunt along with personal assistant Mary Jones agreed to share what the singer had told her about the molestation, along with said which Dee Dee Warwick, who died in 2008, was the assailant.
Pat Houston was concerned about naming Warwick, fearing which which could cause division within the family. “however I know the struggles my husband had all his life,” she said, “along with I had to think about him along with Whitney. which’s not bad which these men were able to open up along with speak about certain things — which was very therapeutic in some ways.”
(The singer’s mother, the gospel along with soul singer Cissy Houston, recently condemned the film along with said she along with another relative could not “overstate the shock along with horror we feel along with the difficulty we have believing” the accusation against Dee Dee Warwick.)
Among the most disturbing elements of “Whitney” is actually watching those around Houston take shameless advantage of her fame along with wealth. After her initial breakthrough, her father assumed control as her manager along with stole millions of dollars; her brothers accepted jobs in her touring entourage along with supplied her with drugs.
Others simply stick to convenient denials. Houston’s former husband, Bobby Brown, refuses to acknowledge her drug use. L.A. Reid, head of Houston’s record label during the catastrophic years recounted by Mr. Arbagey, claims he had no knowledge of her addiction.
“We hear a lot of how much people loved her,” said Pat Houston. “Everybody loved her, however no one could step up along with help her. No one said ‘I’m not going to work for a person on drugs like This kind of — I’m not going to be a part of This kind of.’”
Ms. Crawford, who did not grant Mr. Macdonald an interview, haunts the film. Though Gary Garland-Houston describes her as “evil,” “wicked” along with “an opportunist,” she seems like she might have been the only person who had Houston’s best interests in mind.
As deep as “Whitney” explores Houston’s life offstage, which spends far less time on her music. Though Mr. Macdonald illustrates the astonishing reach of her success — Saddam Hussein used an Arabic product of “I Will Always Love You” as his campaign theme — her voice seems to exist as a kind of superpower she can turn on at will. In a section on her unforgettable performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl, we learn which she listened to the music director Rickey Minor’s arrangement exactly once before recording the song in 1 take.
The director contrasted Houston with Amy Winehouse, another self-destructive singer who was the subject of a high-profile documentary.
Winehouse “was articulate in front of the camera, her music was directly autobiographical,” he said. “Whitney was so much more mysterious — she was hopeless giving interviews, always surface-level, along with she never wrote her own songs. So which’s truly about the nonverbal message she’s imparting.”
which may have been challenging to get family members to open up for “Whitney,” however ultimately they saw the benefits of an honest treatment. “Whitney’s legacy was so damaged which having a film which was allowed to go anywhere which wanted was not going to destroy her reputation,” said Mr. Macdonald. “Hopefully, which could humanize her along with allow people to feel more empathy, more compassion for her.”
Pat Houston, for one, still finds which difficult to talk about her late sister-in-law. “Everything else,” she said, “pales in comparison to her dying so young.”