Sad songs

Two movies about musicians who died tragically open this week at local cinemas.

Whitney: Can I Be Me

Who killed Whitney Houston? Well now, that’s’ a question… That Nick Broomfield’s (Kurt & Courtney) unauthorised biopic only says what we already know hardly lessens its power. There’s a sad and sorry story here, but a depressingly familiar one, and the similarities between this and 2015’s Amy are striking. There’s that same dysfunctional family dynamic, the same squabbling entourage and large numbers of people all on her payroll – who after her death, are only too ready to duck and point. Broomfield takes us on the erratic ups and downs of the singer’s life – from the peaks of pop superstardom through to the lows of substance abuse, career stalls and boozy, druggie domestic dramas with husband, “bad boy” rapper Bobby Brown. He doesn’t flinch from mentioning the shameful neglect of their daughter (who also died from drugs at age 22) nor her affair with her personal assistant, Robyn Crawford who, it is suggested, was her long-time lesbian lover – much to her mother’s disapproval. The musical footage mostly comes from co-director Rudi Dolezal’s concert footage of her 1999 tour, and it captures Whitney’s incredible talent as a performer fantastically. But as joyous as that is, it’s not quite enough. Broomfield didn’t get the co-operation of Houston’s family (they have their own project in the pipeline) so access to the back catalogue was denied. Make no mistake, this is a revealing and affecting movie, perhaps more honest thanks to the estate’s disapproval. If only we could have heard more of that soaring, transcendent voice! M from June 15. ★★★1/2

All Eyez On Me

Oddly enough, one of Nick Broomfield’s earlier docos was Biggie and Tupac, which unlike All Eyez On Me, did reveal new information about both rappers’ deaths as well as showing both to be less mythically gangsta than their stage-personas suggested. That’s especially clear too in Benny Boom’s biopic of the short and dramatic life of Tupac Shakur (played by Demetrius Shipp Jr), gunned down at the age of 25 in a crime never solved. As a teenager he seemed such a sweet kid, studying Shakespeare and even writing love poems for g-f Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) in one of the film’s uncharacteristically tender moments. Well, as sweet as any boy whose mother was a militant and angry Black Panther with all other relatives either in jail or on the run for criminal and/or revolutionary misadventures. Politics and activism never left never Tupac’s work, even later when most of that anger seemed so pointlessly directed at former musical colleagues and friends, and he seemed to buy into his own marketing hype. There’s been a long legal tussle over this project, and though not viewed favourably by the Tupac estate, it’s hardly disrespectful. In fact everything, even some of the more dubious incidents in the rapper’s life, like the death of an innocent young boy by a bullet from a gun owned by him, and especially his imprisonment for sexual assault, come across as airbrushed whitewash. Billed as “the untold story,” there’s really little that couldn’t be read in Wikipedia. His hassles with the law and main career points are covered without a lot of exposition or verve – and for his adoring fans, maybe that will be enough… Apparently Suge Knight is quite happy with the way he’s portrayed (a swaggering thug), although the Death Row supremo wasn’t able to see the final cut “due to his situation.” That’s sitting in prison awaiting trial for murder. MA15+ from June 15. ★★1/2

Reviews: Russell Edwards