A CINEPHILE’S TWO THUMBS UP: NOAH (2014) and WHITNEY (2018)

I had been unable to write about these two works in an earlier post so here I make amends. One addresses an endearing yet preternaturally dark Biblical myth (NOAH) and the other dives deep into multiple facets and external factors of an iconic personality (WHITNEY), liberating the myth from some glaring home truths.

These writings will be brief but effective as always. So here I go.

*****

NOAH (2014)

NOAH’S ARK. These two heavy-duty words have haunted me for so many years since I first read about this endearing yet preternaturally dark Biblical myth that a screen iteration of the same was guaranteed to have me glued. The story of a virtuous man and his brood, descended from a line of righteous personages, who had to build a massive boat for housing the last of every species, as a flood decreed by wrathful divine powers eliminated mankind, is preposterous on paper but the moral complexity of the enterprise alludes to our collective fear of global warming, natural disasters, man’s unheeding ways and the burden of leadership in a world gone to the ditches.

Think of the tsunami in the same breath as this legend , the theory that water cleanses when in its serene passage and wipes out a whole population in one go when on its tempestuous course. In acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky’s hands(he’s a favourite of mine for his iconoclasm) , NOAH merits its darkness and epic proportions. (He had, after all, upended Biblical narratives and created a game changing collage in MOTHER! (2017) It’s a stylistic /narrative choice that works and the sombre tone befits the wiseman stance adopted by a brilliant RUSSELL CROWE ; chances are his ramrod straight position, in terms of physical agility and moral weightlifting, will remind one of his definitive turn from GLADIATOR. He never wavers from the path chosen for him by God ala Moses and Christ.

The one divergent point from Darren’s filmography is that here a straightforward storytelling prevails and we are the better for it. Still its visual panorama is ably aided by consummate turns by JENNIFER CONNELLY, his previous partner from A BEAUTIFUL MIND, SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS, LOGAN LERMAN as the young son awakening to his adolescent yearnings, crossing out his father’s mighty endeavors with his all too human struggles, DOUGLAS BOOTH and especially EMMA WATSON who brings genuine pathos to the tale with her arc. Then there’s Ray Winstone as the rival, antagonistic force.

NOAH importantly traces a paternal sway, son centric lineage as regards Noah’s position by way of the head of the family but it is offset by his questing mind and self – enquiry. It achieves a desired old fashioned earnestness which is ultimately sobering.

*****

WHITNEY (2018)

Innocence is such a vulnerable entity. Always susceptible to be sullied and muddied by those who try to court a little bit of the same when they have already lost their sparkle in the hustle and bustle of everyday grind. Kevin Macdonald, director of diverse works like THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and THE EAGLE, seems to pose a rather difficult, burning idea of whether innocence can sustain itself when the odds of fame outlast your human aura and you cross over to a mythic idyll, in his astutely assembled documentary WHITNEY. All these things defined the ‘Whitney Houston’ we idolize and they pretty much undid her halo as soon as she ascended the steps of all time popularity.

Now could there be anything more glorious than this VOICE? I say that as a fan of her musical contributions. Nothing can touch that one of a kind phrasing, the inimitable falsetto, the soaring eagle of a high note. So beautifully articulated are her upper and lower registers and her emotional connect that those terms I use for her voice do not come across as hyperboles. WHITNEY grasps the great voice, the woman behind the scenes with the joy and pressures of her stardom, with such an inward reflection that we empathize with this larger than life figurehead that externally breaks one on whom our love and moreover expectations are bestowed.

Whitney is also so much more. In the MTV era, she helped dismantle racial and gender barriers to effect an universality . She was also a child of God, reared by the church and touched by her legendary coterie of female role models in mother Cissy, Godmother Aretha Franklin and cousin Dionne Warwick.

Finally there’s the huge setback to her personality that every well to do individual can identify with : the point when people who love us then feed off our honey pot. This was true for her family members. I guess human fallibility touches everyone and this basic truth is fleshed out with a heartbreaking force here.

The biggest unanswered point here is : do others construct our projected auras? That way, we are all Pygmalions, waiting to be whipped up to shape for discerning eyes. Whitney saw it up close and felt herself cave in. The lady, the music, her descent into drug abuse propelled by self destruction and bad influences uncovers the inscrutable human cost of repressing a private pain to uphold appearances.

Another salient feature is in how Kevin ably juxtaposes popular culture montages of the eighties and nineties era (advertisements, events, newsreels) to intercontextualize the petri dish which Houston ruled as a giant.

From the contentiousness of her bond with best friend Robyn to an ill fated marriage with Bobby Brown to her daughter Kristina’s alienation within this evolving pandemonium, it’s a kaleidoscope of one life undergoing several fits and starts even though your name reigns supreme.

The abuses were on many fronts and an explosive revelation regarding a physical outrage on her and her brother as children by a close family member suggests the dangers that lie within our extended set ups . The agony and the ecstasy is all too evident . This incisive look shows us innocence compromised by not so much one’s own volition as by the big, bad world. Watch it as a companion piece with 2017 ‘s probing documentary WHITNEY : CAN I BE ME? It will sear one’s soul.

*****

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