*Director Nick Broomfield’s documentary about late singer Whitney Houston blends firsthand interviews with some of her closest aides and friends, and archival and never-before-seen footage from her 1999 world tour, shot by Rudi Dolezal, who is credited as Broomfield’s co-director.
“Whitney: Can I Be Me” highlights several intimate moments, including a playful side to the star’s relationship with Bobby Brown, someone Broomfield says has been vilified in the narrative of Houston’s life and accused of introducing her to drugs.
The doc explores Brown’s important relationship in the singer’s life, along with Houston’s best friend Robyn Crawford. As noted in the film, some of the people Broomfield interviewed speculate Houston’s relationship with Crawford was romantic.
Watch the trailer for the documentary above.
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“Whitney was created by God, and Whitney’s gift came from him,’ her friend and backing singer Sharlotte Gibson tells Broomfield. “So the only one who could mess it up was her.”
in his 40-year career, Broomfield has made documentaries about a range of subjects, from Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and Republican politician Sarah Palin, to rap legends Biggie and Tupac, and the serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr, known as “the Grim Sleeper.”
While Broomfield is best known for his confrontational style of reporting, he says his approach has always been to make films on subjects he knows little about.
“I’m interested in finding out more. I probably knew no more than most people – that Whitney was an unbelievably talented and extraordinarily beautiful singer who ended up having a tragic end. And I guess I just really wondered what had happened.”
As reported by the UK Telegraph, “the thrust of the film is that Houston was someone who, almost from the outset, had little say in her own life, driven by an ambitious and controlling mother, molded by a record business driven by the bottom line, dragged down by a self-destructive husband and burdened by a retinue of family, friends and dependents.”
“When I first started the film,” Broomfield says, “I thought perhaps she was going to turn out to be deeply unsympathetic; there was so much around about her being this diva, difficult, bad-tempered, cancelled everything… all that stuff. But when I started talking to people who were very close to her – her band members, her hairdresser, her bodyguard – a very different picture emerged of somebody who was endlessly generous, but was so overused by those around her. It was like she was owned by all these people.”
“You gotta know who you are before you step into this business,” Houston is seen saying in an interview conducted in 1995. “Because if you’re trying to find it you’ll probably wind up being somebody else that you probably don’t even like.”
“Whitney loved singing,” Broomfield says, “and she was a great talent; but I don’t think she ever wanted the fame she got. She was just a very unpretentious person who basically liked to hang out in her jeans with friends and have a good time. The ambitious person was her mother. Whitney had the career that her mother had always wanted for herself.”
As a child, Houston – nicknamed ‘Nippy’ – sang in her mother’s New Hope Baptist Church, modeling her technique on Cissy’s. “I made her what she was,” Cissy would tell Oprah Winfrey in an interview following her daughter’s death.
“I made her what she was,” Cissy would tell Oprah Winfrey in an interview following her daughter’s death.
“She had been watching me in sessions and onstage for years, picking up pacing, breathing and microphone techniques, and then adding her own little nuances, too. My son Michael used to joke with me about Nippy’s technique. “Ma,” he’d say, “Nippy should be in jail for stealing all your riffs and everything. You should sue her.”’
In the end, it would be Houston’s father, John, who became her business manager, who would do that.
Broomfield’s Whitney doc examines how the music icon spiraled out of control and ran through some $230 million.
“It’s true that some of that went on drugs, but nowhere near that much. The big money went on supporting other people’s lifestyles. And if you’re supporting 50 or 60 people, that’s a lot of money,” he said. “She was paying all the bills for everybody. Buying them cars, houses, medical bills, school fees.”
Those who were in the best position to help her were also those who had reason to keep her problems out of the public eye, and the show on the road.
Meanwhile, Broomfield’s forgiving attitude to Bobby Brown may surprise some viewers.
“I don’t think he was an evil person,” he says. “I think he deeply loved Whitney and she deeply loved him. You understand in a heartbeat what they saw in each other. She could be herself, he could be himself. They adored each other, but they couldn’t get well around each other.”
Watching the film, one senses that if there was one person who might have saved Houston from herself, and from the leeches and enablers around her, it was her close friend Robyn Crawford. But due to family resistance and circumstance beyond her control, Crawford left Whitney in 2000 and they never spoke again.