Upload and Whitney

In 2017, of Nick Bloomfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me, I wrote, “The overwhelming feeling this film provokes is sadness, and not just because of the drugs and the brilliant life cut short. There isn’t any celebration here; like a lot of Bloomfield’s work, there is only casualty.”

Kevin Macdonald’s 2018 take, Whitney, is better – a lot better. It not only appreciates Whitney as an artist, it places her in the context of her times in a far more significant way, punctuating the action of her life with incredibly effective montages of just how 80s the 80s were – and Whitney was nothing if not an 80s phenomenon.

Bloomfield focused, as befitting his nature, on the love triangle between Whitney, her ‘best friend’ Robyn and her husband, Bobby Brown. Macdonald aims bigger and higher, viewing Whitney’s sexuality through a prism of pain.

I felt a lot of big emotions watching Whitney. It’s the documentary she deserved: hardly hagiographic, indeed warts and all, but with a massive heart.

SBS is following its premiere screening of Whitney with a week of music bio pics, including Ray, Taylor Hackford’s 2004 film about Ray Charles, starring Jamie Foxx, which I reckon is one of the very best of the genre, and Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s odd, speculative fantasia on Miles Davis, which is flawed but fun.

Upload, the big new comedy on Amazon, is a fun take on what our near future may have looked like had Covid 19 not got in the way. Although its central idea – that we’ll be able to upload, on our deathbeds, into a virtual afterlife – can still hold. You come to sitcoms for the situation and stay for the characters. The relatively unknown cast here are appealing enough to show promise; the tech-cute situation certainly does, and breezily keeps you tethered while your appreciation for the human beings can develop.

Whitney, Australian TV Premiere, SBS, Sunday 10 May 9:20pm

Upload, now streaming on Amazon

WHITNEY: Can I Be Me

CanIBeMe_HERO_1240x545

**1/2 (out of five)

Nick Bloomfield is not the greatest documentarian, even if he’s one of the most famous. He made his significant name with provocative titles such as Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam, Kurt and Courtney and Biggie and Tupac, putting himself into the picture with his signature boom mike and even-more-signature idiosyncratic British drawl (if you’ve seen the work of Louis Theroux you’ll be hip to Bloomfield’s early style). He stays out of Whitney: Can I Be Me, his feature doc on Whitney Houston, but, as with the majority of his work, he takes a point of view; trouble is, as with much of his work, that point of view is muddy and obtuse.

Whitney’s death is the big feature here, and the film is framed as something of a detective story, not a “whodunnit?” but a “howdidit?” Unfortunately, the answer is pretty clear: long term drug use killed the deceased, Your Honour, case closed. So Bloomfield, seeking to spice things up, dwells on the love triangle at the centre of Houston’s universe – between herself, husband Bobby Brown, and best friend and possible lover Robyn Crawford – with diminishing returns, as we realise that Crawford isn’t going to appear on camera.

Her absence leaves a gap too thematically large for the many talking heads to fill; it’s kind of like a piece of journalism missing the most important source. There is a lot of footage from Houston’s final tour – seen for the first time – that certainly shows both the astonishing talent and the ravages of addiction, and there are often terribly sad revelations, such as the on-camera admission by Houston’s mother Cissy that she could not abide homosexuality on her daughter’s part. But Houston herself remains a weirdly remote, distant figure, which is a big problem for the subject of a feature doc.

The overwhelming feeling this film provokes is sadness, and not just because of the drugs and the brilliant life cut short. There isn’t any celebration here; like a lot of Bloomfield’s work, there is only casualty.

Whitney_Can_I_Be_Me_1