Friday, December 30, 2022

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, on CNN

Dionne Warwick almost sang a Bond theme, but “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” was replaced by Tom Jones’ “Thunderball” at the last minute, because the producers were so literal-minded. Nobody mentions it in her documentary, probably because she had 56 other singles that hit the charts, making her one of the top-selling recording artists of all time. Warwick looks back on her life and career in David Heilbroner & Dave Wooley’s Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, which airs Sunday night on CNN.

Warwick is widely considered the first vocalist to fully crossover from R&B to pop. Her long association with the song-writing duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David is the major reason why. They have been dismissed as loungey, but tunes like “Alfie,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and “Always Something There to Remind Me” are quite interesting musically. If nothing else, Heilbroner and Wooley will convince viewers the time has come for an in-depth documentary profile of Bacharach.

Jazz fans will also be interested to know Warwick was twice married to jazz musician William Elliott, who was a sideman with Willis “Gator” Jackson and co-led a session with Joe Thomas. Their first marriage was sort of a false start, but the second take lasted twelve years—and Warwick’s memories of it sound mostly positive. It was with Elliott that Warwick had her two sons, Damon and Elliott, who are far and away the doc’s funniest interview subjects.

Not surprisingly, Heilbroner & Wooley dedicate a lot of time to her relationship with her aunt, Cissy Houston, and her cousin, Whitney Houston, which makes sense, since they are important to Warwick and most likely what the vast majority of viewers will be most interested in. To the credit of the subject and directors, the film does not duck her unfortunate involvement with the “Psychic Friends Network.” However, the long, laudatory chronicle of her AIDS activism unfortunately veers into score-settling political territory.

It would be fascinating to hear Warwick’s thoughts on the poorly received 1969 film
Slaves, in which she co-starred opposite Ossie Davis. The film might be controversial, but the Bobby Scott-Gary McFarland-Grady Tate soundtrack is terrific. It also suggests Warwick’s career is even more interesting than “Don’t Make Me Over” represents to viewers. As a film, Don’t Make Me Over is certainly watchable, but its fannishness allows no space for critical detachment of any sort. Mostly recommended for fans like Heilbroner & Wooley, Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over airs New Year’s Night (1/1) on CNN.