Music documentary

Beyond the Bombshells is a simple musical documentary

News of the shocking “Whitney” revelations quickly went viral early Thursday morning, once the Cannes Film Festival premiere of Kevin Macdonald’s bio-documentary on Whitney Houston was released. The film, made with the full permission of her family, revealed that the late singer was sexually abused as a child by her cousin, late singer Dee Dee Warwick.

And yet, watching Macdonald’s wide-view documentary at the first press screening on Thursday morning, knowing the bombs in store, actually made for a somewhat richer and more engaging experience. Because we’re not swept away by the film’s late reveal, we’re better able to recognize the different ways Macdonald alludes to it, pointing to it at different points in time.

While that’s an impressive fact to bear in mind, especially since the director himself wasn’t able to get that bombshell confirmation until fairly late in the editing process, it’s not quite surprising.

Even with its shocking revelations, “Whitney” remains a straightforward documentary behind the music that sticks to the standard rise and fall structure like a flight plan.

The film will invariably be compared to Asif Kapadia’s “Amy,” which also premiered at Cannes and won the Best Documentary Oscar, but I wouldn’t bet on similar awards in this case.

While Kapadia’s uncomfortably intimate burrow into the life of Amy Winehouse benefited from a wealth of found footage and the director’s clear editorial stance, “Whitney” is built on a more conventional assemblage of talking-head edits and pop, covering key Houston media moments. thirty years of career.

“Amy” was a full-length record, while “Whitney” is more of a greatest hits compilation.

Yet Macdonald’s film has a thesis of sorts – that there was a world of difference between the international icon who delivered a rousing “Star Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl and the somewhat shy woman whom his friends and family called Nippy.

While the film deftly touches on the main points of Whitney’s rise and fall — that Super Bowl performance, her gig in newly reunited South Africa, her disastrous 2002 ABC interview — it struggles harder. to break Nippy.

This is partly due to the reluctance of a few key figures to participate. The singer’s lover, Robyn Crawford, is rumored to only appear in archival footage, with the film coming so close to labeling the true nature of the two women’s relationship without saying so.

In fact, the film often uses denials to argue otherwise. His voice bellowing behind the camera, Macdonald squarely challenges Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown and former label boss LA Reid about the singer’s drug addiction. Although both men offer mealy-mouthed obscurations, their body language and uncomfortable looks speak volumes.