In Movie Memoriam: Whitney Houston and The Bodyguard

Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard

Despite having acted in only a handful of movies before her death on Saturday at the age of 48, Whitney Houston left a lasting legacy with the few film projects she did release during her reign as arguably the best-known female pop singer of her generation. 1995's Waiting to Exhale earned her a NAACP Image Award nomination, and 1996's The Preacher's Wife won her the award (and made her the highest-earning African American actress in Hollywood at the time); this year's Sparkle was set to be Houston's comeback after a well-documented and public period of substance abuse and personal decline. But no film is as indelibly linked to Houston's legacy as her debut in 1992's The Bodyguard, and the record-breaking soundtrack it spawned.

After Houston's debut album Whitney Houston and her sophomore effort Whitney made her a global, award-winning recording star, the singer selected her first foray into film, signing on to director Mick Jackson's romantic drama-thriller-musical The Bodyguard. Sure, she was nominated for a Razzie for her turn as Rachael Marron, an internationally renowned pop star/actress who falls for her stoic bodyguard (Kevin Costner) -- and critics widely panned the film, citing the cold chemistry between Houston and Costner and the fact that the character didn't seem much of a stretch for Houston. But The Bodyguard's heavy musical element, and the potency of its chart-topping soundtrack, went a long way in enhancing Houston's screen performance and turning it into something of a phenomenon.

Released in the fall of 1992, The Bodyguard went on to gross $410.9 million worldwide owing largely to Houston's popularity and the soundtrack to which she contributed six songs; buoyed by the Dolly Parton-penned powerhouse ballad cover "I Will Always Love You," its soundtrack became the bestselling soundtrack album of all time, and with good reason.

With "I Will Always Love You" Houston recorded a defining song of the decade, one that meshed her soulful chops, extraordinary voice, and the R&B-inflected mainstream appeal that had already made her a breakout star across genre lines. Where Parton's original version carried a sweet country lilt, Houston added power and a bombastic sense for drama that not only fit her character's storyline and explained the film's bittersweet ending, it also showcased her strengths as a singer and performer.

I always loved the way the song's opening lines wafted in over Rachael and Frank's farewell scene, beginning as Rachael's plaintive inner voice then swelling as she sings her feelings so urgently she has to stop the plane just to run out to give him one last smooch. Cut to some time later, as he's moved on to his next job and she's onstage performing "I Will Always Love You" -- thinking of him, we know, every time she performs it. Who can care that Houston and Costner's flirtation is stiff for the first half of the movie when you have a love ballad like this, roiling with bittersweet emotion, giving you closure and catharsis?

In addition to "I Will Always Love You," two other Bodyguard singles ("I'm Every Woman" and "Queen of the Night") peaked at number one on the U.S. Dance charts. But for my money the better songs on the album were "I Have Nothing" (which hit number one on the Adult Contemporary charts) and "Run to You," both original ballads that went on to nab Oscar nominations for Best Song. More importantly: as with "I Will Always Love You," it's in the familiar environs of the music videos for these singles where Houston's expressiveness as an actress really came alive.

The video for "I Will Always Love You" featured a fierce, confident Whitney in a power suit singing to an empty theater while looking far more comfortable emoting to her music than she did opposite her co-star; one could imagine she was Rachael Barron, years removed from her relationship with Frank Farmer, sitting with her memories while rehearsing for her latest tour. Similarly, the music video for "I Have Nothing" also allowed Houston to channel the character through her music. Placing Houston as Rachael in performance in a nightclub set, director Steve Barron (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean") evokes a rich atmosphere while drawing real nuance and emotion out of Houston in close-up, a performance of a performance, and probably the most glamorous and gorgeous of the soundtrack's videos.

"Run to You," meanwhile, featured Houston as Rachael in dreamy, heavenly white, declaring her love and longing so passionately that Frank, watching it on television late one night in the film, feels a flutter. If you had trouble buying Houston's character in the film, these supplemental videos gave her the chance to demonstrate a much more vivid inner life -- and everyone of a certain generation watched the hell out them back in the day.

Houston also contributed popular soundtrack singles to her later films, the Grammy-winning "Waiting to Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" from Waiting to Exhale and the Grammy-nominated "I Believe in You and Me" from The Preacher's Wife, but neither achieved the confluence of movie and music that drove The Bodyguard to its successes. Following 1997's musical telefilm Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (opposite Brandy), Houston's next film project was to be a remake of the 1976 R&B melodrama Sparkle, to star Houston and Aaliyah. Back on track and recast almost a decade later with Jordin Sparks playing the lead role, the musical was filmed last fall and will be released this summer, marking Houston's final screen performance.

Share your favorite Houston performances, scenes, or songs below.

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Comments

  • forever1267 says:

    I'm probably Costner's only apologist on the entire Internet these days, but he was coming off "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "JFK" before this so bad it's good movie, so he might have also been an influence on that box office.

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      In your apologies for him I hope you don't cede too much to the haters, forever. You sound more like a fan, though -- good place to be!

      • j'accuse! says:

        Man. I concur. The negativity in some of the comments these days is killing me. Just...yeah. Life is challenging enough, don't entirely get why peeps have to come on the intertubes to whine about David Lynch lists and stuff. So yeah...good to be a fan I suppose.

        • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

          Most truly, I really appreciated forever stepping in here, j'accuse; but it is true that if you admit too much to how much you like someone like Costner, there is a sense you won't even be listened to, so you default to apologist instead. But if you really like someone you really shouldn't be in a position where you have to begin by granting the validity in the demonic criticism. For my and their sakes, I don't want my friends shuffling away from me if I start seeming suspect. There is better than that.

          • j'accuse! says:

            There may be better than that, but I'm not seeing a lot that is better than that these days. Kinda gloomy out there...

  • Plum says:

    This movie also encapsulated so much of the 90's; pre-grunge, pre-beret wearing interns, post Reagan, with the nation still caught up in Clinton euphoria. Plus god bless the fake Oscar titles: "Woman In Red Sings the Blues!" "Cocktails for Two!" "Welcome To Birdhouse!"

  • michael reid says:

    TO THE FAMILY OF WHITNEY I SHARE YOUR GREIF AND YOUR LOST,I CAN ONLY SAY TO YOU THAT GOD KNOWS WHY BECAUSE HE GIVE LIFE AND HE TAKE IT AWAY.SO CRY IF YOU MUST WHEEPING WILL ENJORE FOR A NIGHT BUT JOY COMETH IN THE MORNING.MAY GOD POUR OUT HIS BLESSING ON YOUR FAMILY IN YOUR TIME OF GREIF.GOD BLESS ON KEEP YOU ALL. BE STRONG IN THE LORD.YOURS TRULY MICHAEL.

  • Moviefan1972 says:

    Although Whitney Houston was amazingly talented as a singer, The movie The Body Guard was terrible. I believe Costner pursued her as an actress for the movie because he was attracted to her, but then soon realized that there was NO CHEMISTRY between them at all.She was not enough of an actress to pull it off, but that wasn't her fault. The lack of chemistry in the movie was extremely obvious. The movie should have been way more of a flop than it was. Having said that, Whitney was amazing and may she rest in peace.

  • Got it! says:

    I thought the movie was decent. I've seen it more than once and there is more depth to the characters, but the film itself is choppy and does not allow the characters sufficient opportunity to connect with the audience in any one part. Good chemistry with the actors, just not well written.

  • Alexa says:

    I am hoping that you are going to be elaborating a little more on this topic. I would like a bit more information.

  • This is not a film , this is your real bodyguard ...
    investigation

  • This move is very judgement about body guard. The singer Whitney Houston was a talent singer but bodyguard is not...

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