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Legendary music producer Clive Davis says his documentary Soundtrack of Our Lives presents a more accurate and balanced picture of late singer Whitney Houston than the unauthorized Nick Broomfield film Can I Be Me.
On hand for a screening of Soundtrack at the Deauville Film Festival, Davis said he has found the reception to his Chris Perkel-directed film “very powerful,” with emotional screenings at Ischia and in Deauville as he does the European festival circuit before the U.K. premiere at London’s Curzon theater on Sept. 12.
As for working with Apple, which snapped up global rights to the film the day before its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, Davis says it has been “beyond supportive” and is planning a Times Square billboard, a 30-second national TV ad during the Emmys and an Oscar-qualifying run in New York and L.A. The tech behemoth is also supporting a screening at the Pacific Design Center on Sept. 26. Davis will host a Q&A at the Arclight in Los Angeles on Sept. 27.
The film, based on his 2013 memoir of the same title, features interviews with Barry Manilow, Paul Simon, Kenny G., Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Sean “Diddy” Combs, among many, many others.
“To find out that it’s not just your memory of how special that interface was but how special it was to them was very, very touching,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
After a warm reception in Deauville, Davis said much of that emotion has less to do with his story than the sad tale of Whitney Huston’s downfall and eventual death that takes up much of the last third of the film.
“It’s a powerful picture of Whitney, not a self-puffery one, but one that does finally recognize the magnitude of the heights that she reached,” he said of her portrayal in Soundtrack. “For the first time you see a picture of her as an artist, as one of the greatest female singers in history, and yet you also see her downfall graphically exposed.”
He believes Soundtrack shows a balanced picture of Houston’s career, and the mogul took issue with Broomfield’s portrayal of the singer, which he said is a one-sided view he declined to participate in. He has seen the film and said those that did agree to be interviewed were “tertiary and insignificant” to her life.
“This was no girl from the hood. She was from an urban African American neighborhood, but she was a fashion model at 16 and was very much in that world, and she always was in control,” he said, saying her favorite actress was Doris Day. He also downplayed the film’s assertion that she was forever impacted by being booed at the Soul Train awards in 1989. “That’s silly, you see her make fun of Soul Train,” he said, referring to a scene in Soundtrack, in which she discusses the issue with Arsenio Hall.
“No one thought Whitney was not being Whitney. She was an artist like no other before with no blinders,” he said. “So I think that that whole [film], with all due respect, is inaccurate.” However he added that many raw scenes were “painful.” Soundtrack shows Davis’ efforts to reach Whitney, but makes it clear he did not know the extent of her drug addiction at the time.
Even though Apple has been massively disruptive to the music industry, Davis said he was pleased to be working with the tech giant. While the industry has been shaken by tech disruption, it has recovered ground, and streaming is now predicted to be a $41 billion business in 15 years.
“It just reaffirms that after Napster, after the concern that the public was entitled to music free, the importance of recognizing creativity, the importance of protecting the creator and the forces that are involved with music,” he said. “But equally if not more importantly is that after years of uncertainty as to what the digital revolution might do to creative rights, the important thing is that music is something that will not be made obsolete by the technological revolution.”
“If anything I’m very optimistic that the laws will continue increasing perspective of protection of creative rights of authors, performers, the record companies, as it should be. Music is healthy.”
However Davis, who still listens to every song on the Billboard Hot 100 weekly, says he is concerned about the increasing homogenization of music. “I do have concerns as to formulaizing music at the radio level – radio is still the most important media to break an artist – so that where is the next Aretha Franklin going to come from if a ballad is relegated only to an urban adult or adult classification? Where is the next Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen?”
While hip hop and dance are “dominating thinking” right now, he says there are relatively few artists coming up in those genres with “just a handful” of veteran hip hop artists, including Jay Z, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, and the dance charts tend to cater to one-hit-wonders that sell a good single but can’t drive album sales.
Following on the success of Rod Stewart singing classic songs, which sold 25 million albums, Davis’ next project is Johnny Mathis singing the “new” classics, including Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are, Adele’s Hello, and country hits including Keith Urban’s Blue Ain’t Your Color and Alan Jackson’s Remember When. “He’s a master, up there with Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra,” he said of the 81-year-old. Davis will present the album Sept. 28 at his eponymous theater in L.A.’s Grammy Museum.
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