At a fairly pithy 74-minutes, The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears articulates its desire to be about control even in its runtime. It hurriedly attempts to establish the authorship the pop star had in her early career, even within the confines of a misogynistic industry (“industry” here can mean so much), and the ways in which it was wrenched from her in a litany of ways and from a myriad of sources, interpersonal and institutional. Even the documentary’s title bristles with its thematizing, the star wavering between the agency of self-assured diva and object beneath public, and private, thumb. That early in the film, we see her former assistant, Felicia Culotta, take the cameraperson on a tour of the various records kept behind glass, is indicative of both the obviousness of many of the film’s points and the labyrinthine nostalgia the internet has crafted for such public figures to make even the most cynical viewer quiver with sadness.
The impulse for this film is supposedly rooted in a kind of advocacy on the part of the Times; locked in a decade-plus conservatorship by her father, Jamie Spears, Spears’ safety, work, and full autonomy has come into question by many both reading into her cryptic behavior (primarily online) as well as her subtle public acknowledgment of this growing issue (and the people supporting her) regarding her rights as a mother and, perhaps, worker. With an unusual network of power and money possibly fueling the complicated situation, the film poses itself as a contemporary analog to muckraking, on behalf of a celebrity whose ubiquity made it easy to project onto and thus, moreso, manipulate. The film, however, feels more like yellow journalism.