Friday, April 19, 2024

Review: Dionne Warwick Doc “Don’t Make Me Over” Proves CNN Should Keep Showing Films


CNN recently announced it was killing all its original programming including its terrific documentary division. Seeing “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over” debut tonight as part of the final season made clear that David Zaslav is making a big mistake. This kind of film is exactly what helps give CNN value added, and class.

“Don’t Make Me Over” debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2021 and almsot got lost because of the pandemic. Directed by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner, the film is long overdue. Dionne Warwick is a national treasure, a legendary singer and AIDS activist who has long been outspoken and forthright. Her work with Burt Bacharach and Hal David on dozens of classic songs still resonates today. Then she had a rare second career with Clive Davis, producing even more hits. (The only hit not mentioned in the film is “Then Came You,” with the Spinners, still heard daily around the world.)

Recently, Dionne discovered Twitter, and owned it. She even asked for a meeting with Elon Musk. This resulted in “Saturday Night Live” sending her up in a sketch with Ego Nwodim called “The Dionne Warwick Show.” Lorne Michaels should really have her on to sing, ratings would go through the roof.

Dionne comes from a famous music family. Her late mother and Cissy Houston were sisters, making Dionne and Whitney Houston first cousins. Cissy and Dionne’s mother were part of a family group called the Drinkard Singers which also included Dionne’s talented sister, Dee Dee Warwick. Cissy went off to sing with Aretha Franklin, Dionne became a star on her own, even Dee Dee had hits in the 60s. There was no denying this family. Their talent is magical– and hard earned.

The documentary is very well done, cutting between some older unseen interviews, newer pieces, and concert footage. Burt Bacharach, who is 94, is heavily featured in a recent interview (his lyric writer, the great Hal David, sadly passed a few years ago). Burt and Dionne didn’t always get along, but they reached dizzying heights together. After a falling out, they had a rapproachement. (Believe it or not, neither of them has a Kennedy Center honor. They should be inducted together, immediately.)

Also featured in the film are Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Clive Davis, Alicia Keys, Barry Gibb, Quincy Jones, and many people from the music business who were there along the way as Dionne took off in the 60s and never looked back. The directors have done a skillful job of weaving together archival footage with clips, photos, and so on. More importantly, we learn some interesting things including how Marlene Dietrich took Dionne under her wing and turned her into a fashionista in Paris. We also hear some upsetting stories about Dionne fighting racism on the road and elsewhere, including how Dionne’s European record company put a picture of a blonde, blue eyed girl on her first record jacket there instead of showing that she was Black. You better believe Dionne set them straight!

The film also details how Warwick got Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager‘s “That’s What Friends Are For” turned into a money making anthem for AIDS fundraising. Bravo! Plus, there’s a Dionne Warwick Institute in East Orange, New Jersey teaching leadership to students. And these are just layers of Dionne that people don’t know about, like calling a meeting at her home with Snoop Dogg and other rappers to get them to stop using misogynistic lyrics. Snoop is interviewed about it, too.

CNN doesn’t realize what a service they performed tonight showing this film– they must keep doing this. There are no politics in documentaries like “Don’t Make Me Over.” It’s history, biography, arts; and culture. And if they’re not going to advance those things in this kind of forum, 24 news otherwise has no context.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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