WHITNEY: CAN I BE ME gets 7/10 We’ll always love you too

Directed by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal

7/10

We all remember Whitney Houston’s death. It’s still raw after a mere five years. Houston was a beautiful, passionate, seemingly untouchable enigma of pop music who gave the world more number one hits than The Beatles, and left behind a legacy that cemented her in the popular consciousness for eternity. Her transcendent vulnerability and eventually her death touched us all.

Houston fans or no, there are unanswered questions about the pop princess’ well documented addiction, heartbreak and subsequent demise that we all want to know. Directors Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal succinctly, concisely answer with the magnificently constructed Can I Be Me. And it’s some seriously compelling viewing.

A series of revealing interviews with friends, family members and professional counterparts, combined with some gorgeous never-before-seen footage shot by a doco film crew following Houston’s last successful tour, Can I Be Me is a tale that needs to be told. Chronologically, pragmatically and sans filter, Broomfield and Dolezal sew together a seamlessly great piece of music and pop culture iconography into a seriously watchable piece of history.

The title references a question frequently asked by Houston. She knew the answer to the simple query, “can I be me?’ was a resounding no. From her demanding mother, Cissy Houston, to the record company executives moulding her career, Houston quite simply had no control over her own trajectory. Drugs were perhaps her way of regaining control, the one thing she could control, or allow her to spin without the course determined for her by all who were in her orbit. And yet her fate was, ironically, written by them from a tender age – her brother used heroin for the first time at ten and openly discusses the shared family culture. Drugs were a part of her formative years. There’s no avoidance of blame here, and there are several fingers pointing squarely at Houston’s extensive entourage, as we witness her personal bodyguard attest boldly in a report that went blatantly, tragically ignored.

Notably, there is also no kid-glove handling of the relationship between Houston and her “best friend” and alleged bisexual lover, Robyn Crawford. Thankfully, evidence of Houston’s bisexuality is not treated with any brand of disdain at all, but presented to us factually, and allows audiences to read into it as they wish. The only hatefulness comes from her mother, Cissy, to whom bisexuality was worse than her daughter’s fate and the cause of her death, and whose love of the church was all consuming. It’s a sad indictment of misguided, bible-fuelled judgement and supreme self-righteousness.

It hurts when we lose someone to drugs. Addiction is cruel, and so hard for anyone to understand the why, up to and including those who suffer it. But when it’s someone great – truly great – and so blessed with innate talent, it is even more difficult to comprehend. Addiction is not deferential and it does not discriminate. It doesn’t respect upbringing, education levels, or celebrity. We are all susceptible to downfalls of any description, and Houston’s addiction does not make her any less of a star.

The filmmakers deserves all the praise and plaudits for attesting to that fact. Broomfield has abandoned his usual gonzo style of documentary, as previously parodied by The Simpsons and imitated by the likes of Louis Theroux, and on this turn round the turnstiles he has completely omitted himself from any shots, out of respect for Houston as a performer and as a gracious, kind, giving human being.

Screening for only one week at the newly refurbished Cinema Paradiso, from June 15, this is a beautiful testament to a loving, talented but doomed soul, and one worth watching. Head to www.lunapalace.com.au for more info.

NATALIE GILES

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