Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ghosts of the Silver Screen

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ghosts of the Silver Screen

Article excerpt

The timing of "Sparkle," Whitney Houston's final film, coming out Friday, could be perfect.

Not for her career. For her brand.

Houston, who died Feb. 11 at the young age of 48, won't be around to reap any personal benefits from this movie, a remake of the 1976 cult film about the rise of a girl group like The Supremes. But her death could propel "Sparkle" to a whole new level.

Posthumous films, riding on the emotion for a much-loved, newly mourned celebrity, can sometimes achieve an extra jolt of fame. Shock, yearning, morbid curiosity can make them instant classics they might never have been otherwise.

"There's no question that it can stir interest and curiosity," says Teaneck-born film critic Leonard Maltin.

The enduring example is "Rebel Without a Cause." James Dean was already a teen idol before Warner Bros. released his most famous film on Oct. 27, 1955. But the fact that Dean had died in a car crash, less than a month before this saga of drag-racing juvenile delinquents hit the screen, was a guarantee of immortality - both for him and the movie.

Heath Ledger's death on Jan. 22, 2008, after filming "The Dark Knight," propelled his Joker to instant-icon status, and posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Bruce Lee's status as martial arts master supreme was cemented when "Enter the Dragon" (1973) became his last finished film. And while Peter Finch died just after, not before, "Network" premiered in 1976, his untimely passing became key to the publicity surge that propelled the movie to the Oscar sweeps (Finch got a posthumous Best Actor award).

The fact that Houston is giving her final appearance in "Sparkle," a film she helped to spearhead, could - ironically - be its greatest selling point.

"Personally, I would have went to see the movie anyway," says Carolyn Thrower, a Hackensack resident and Houston fan who has opening day circled on her calendar. "But for me, this is going to be emotional. I want to see her final days, how she looked. From the clips of the movie, it looks like she looked healthy, and doing well. I will probably tear up a little - since this is her last and final performance. …

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