24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Sparkle

Whitney Houston's 'Sparkle': Should it go the Jackson route?

February 15, 2012 |  3:52 pm

Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks in 'Sparkle'
Barely six weeks after Michael Jackson died in the summer of 2009, Sony Pictures made a surprising announcement: It would release a documentary showing the star preparing for what, with the singer’s death, had become a canceled series of London concerts.

Culled from dozens of hours of rehearsal footage shot in the weeks before he died, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” as the film was to be called, would come out that October. The film, which would be directed by Kenny Ortega (who was also helming the concerts),  would offer a peek at the plans for the aborted shows while also documenting a musical icon’s last creative efforts.

Inevitably, there was a backlash from some fans and pundits. Did the studio have a fully realized film? Or was it hastily throwing together outtakes to cash in on a star's death? And even if it did have the goods, was it moving too soon in bringing out a Jackson movie just four months after he died?

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

But the studio pressed on, saying that the film “will offer Jackson fans and music lovers worldwide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer, his career and the stage spectacular that would have been.” And when “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” came out at the end of October, Sony was vindicated: The movie received largely positive reviews for its insight into Jackson’s creative process and made more than $260 million worldwide.

Sony finds itself in an eerily similar situation this week with the death of Whitney Houston.

As it did with Jackson, the Culver City studio is sitting on filmed material from an iconic musician that also happens to be some her last creative work -- a period musical drama called “Sparkle” in which Houston stars as the mother of aspiring pop-soul singers.  Directed by Salim Brock Akil and also starring Jordin Sparks, “Sparkle” is a remake of a 1976 film that features Irene Cara. Houston's role, as the complicated mother to sisters who risk becoming corrupted by success (including one who becomes a victim of addiction), is significant. It's also Houston’s first film part in 15 years.

“Sparkle” had long been scheduled for an Aug. 17 release by Sony, and for the moment it remains there; a studio spokesman said there are no plans to change the date because of Houston’s death. But at least one person familiar with the studio’s release plans who was not authorized to talk about them publicly said there have been internal discussions about bringing out the movie sooner.

It’s certainly a legitimate conversation. Rather than wait six months to release the movie, Sony could bring out “Sparkle” in, say, June, which would be four months after Houston's death, the same window as “This Is It.” In fact, the studio could move up “Sparkle” even earlier since, unlike “This Is It” at the time of its star’s death, Houston’s movie is already complete.

That would require some creative juggling with theater owners and publicity venues. But studios have changed schedules at more of the last-minute, and for subjects less newsworthy, many times before. It’s hard to imagine a theater owner or morning-show booker that wouldn’t want it out as soon as possible.

The studio could also face charges that it is acting insensitively -- unlike Jackson, there is an addiction subplot to “Sparkle” that could land awkwardly. And Sony couldn’t make the case that it is bringing out the movie to show what could have been: “This Is It” offered a glimpse into performances of which we’d otherwise have been oblivious. “Sparkle” will offer the same look at Houston’s acting abilities no matter when it comes out.

But Sony could also persuasively make the argument that Houston’s death has awakened an interest in her work. Moving up the film to spring would simply meet that need (and wouldn’t be much different from the  numerous cable specials and other retrospectives  that have been announced in the past few days, anyway).

Maybe most important, the studio would have a precedent to fall back on: “This Is It” proved that moving quickly doesn’t mean you’re running roughshod over taste or quality.


Could Whitney Houston's 'Sparkle' come before August?

Whitney Houston's posthumous turn: As star of 'Sparkle'

Medics performed CPR for about 20 minutes

Whitney Houston was spotted displaying erratic behavior

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in "Sparkle." Credit: Sony Pictures

Whitney Houston's 'Sparkle': Could it come before August?

February 13, 2012 |  3:41 pm

The release of the movie "Sparkle," Whitney Houston’s final recorded work, has been the subject of intense interest since the pop star died in Beverly Hills on Saturday.

On Monday morning, Radar Online quoted an anonymous source at Sony saying the release date for the movie, in which Houston plays the mother of aspiring pop singers, is being moved up from Aug. 17 because of fan interest. The film “could be released as early as Memorial Day,” Radar quoted the source as saying.

Shortly afterward, a Sony spokesman said that the report was "not true" and that the film would be released on schedule on the third weekend of August. So for now, it appears to be sitting pat.

A remake of a 1976 Irene Cara movie, "Sparkle" is still technically in postproduction, though a rough cut has been completed. According to executive producer Howard Rosenman, who said he saw that cut just last week, Houston shines in the film. "She is genius in the movie and it would have been a giant comeback for her," he told 24 Frames.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The original "Sparkle" told the story of the Williams sisters, a trio of 1950s-era Harlem singers whose stories were loosely inspired by the Supremes. Headed by Lonette McKee's Sister, the group also features Sister's sister Sparkle (Cara), Dolores (Dawn Smith) and several friends. As they begin to find success, though, Sister's life spirals out of control, with drug addiction eventually leading to her death.

The new version, directed by Salim Akil ("Jumping the Broom," television series "The Game"), is believed to follow a similar story line, with Jordin Sparks as the titular character who must find a way to achieve stardom despite the drama surrounding her family. Houston plays Emma, the sisters' less-than-encouraging mother. (The original character, named Effie in the 1976 film, was incarnated by Mary Alice.)

How will the new "Sparkle" fare when it comes out? The Whitney factor will certainly drive interest, with the addiction plotline giving it an eerie resonance.

But it will need a certain kind of publicity help. Despite doing big business on the small screen, movies about aspiring singers have been disappointments; in the past two years, films such as "Country Strong," "Joyful Noise" and "Burlesque" have all underperformed at the box office.


Whitney Houston's posthumous turn: As star of 'Sparkle'

Medics performed CPR for about 20 minutes

Whitney Houston was spotted displaying erratic behavior

Whitney Houston dead at 48; celebrities react on Twitter

-- Steven Zeitchik and Julie Makinen


Photo: Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in "Sparkle." Credit: Sony Pictures


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