Around the time that he produced the films Kurt & Courtney and Biggie & Tupac in the late 90s/early 2000s, Nick Broomfield became the biggest name in feature documentaries. Appearing on the edge of the frame adorned with headphones and a large boom mic, Broomfield struck a peculiarly English figure as he tackled controversial topics – most notably the suggestion that Courtney Love might have plotted to murder Kurt Cobain - with a sort of befuddled wit.
He’s since been eclipsed by the likes of Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock and Louis Theroux (the latter stealing a fair amount of Broomfield’s onscreen persona), along with his decision to go in a new filmmaking direction and feature more recreations using actors in films like Ghosts and Battle For Haditha. But Broomfield’s influence on the cinematic documentary is obvious, not least the way in which he made the actual filming process part of the film itself.
Whitney: Can I Be Me sees Broomfield return to the arena of celebrity expose that made his name. Proudly displaying the ‘unauthorized’ tag like a badge of honour, Broomfield and his collaborator Rudi Dolezal delve into the tumultuous life of one of the world’s greatest ever singers, using unseen footage captured by Dolezal from her 1999 tour and looking at the events that led to her untimely death at the age of 48.
Broomfield has been open up front about how Houston’s drug abuse is of little interest to him – what’s clear is that he sees Houston as a victim, her million dollar fortune sucked dry by family and friends. Interviews include former back-up singers, bodyguards and record executives, although Bobby Brown was intentionally left off the list. Broomfield felt the real story would come from the lesser known figures in Houston’s life, but access to those figures has been limited by the Houston estate, who contacted a number of people in advance to ensure they didn’t talk to Broomfield.
You can assume that’s largely because a rival ‘official’ documentary is also in the works from director Kevin Macdonald, which has the blessing of both the Houston estate and Clive Davis, the record executive who launched Houston and became a mentor to her. Macdonald says he won’t shy away from more incendiary topics, but considering the still fresh controversy about the people who floated in Houston’s orbit, it’s obvious that Broomfield’s documentary is the one to see for anybody who wants an unvarnished look at the way Houston was used and abused by those around her.
As the film’s title so perfectly suggests, it’s hard to be yourself when everybody wants a piece of you.