Ironically the first time I heard of Amy Winehouse was not through the medium of music. I saw her in a magazine wearing retro clothing and I thought “wow what a cool and beautiful girl, is she a singer or something? ” Even before the tattoos and beehive, Amy had a very distinct image.
Most people will not remember Amy pre the Back To Black era. After all the image of Amy that resonates in our minds is the thin drug-addled alcoholic. This is where director Asif Kapadia’s “Amy” comes in. The movie begins looking back at Amy’s teenage years when she was vivacious, healthy and happy. “Amy” is a documentary shot using personal home footage, live recordings, narratives from friends and acquaintances and Amy’s own lyrics. Amy is portrayed as a cheeky fun-loving girl who loves her jazz music, a game of pool and a drink and a joint!
I won’t claim to have known Amy’s music through her first album. However when “Rehab” and the subsequent “Back to Black” album were released, I became a devotee. Amy’s lyrics and raw honesty meant you couldn’t help but love her.
The movie slowly depicts how Amy’s rise to fame and addictions culminated in her untimely death. One thing I didn’t know was that Amy suffered from bulimia and this affected her health greatly. It’s clear that her gaunt physique was not solely caused by drug abuse.
One part of the movie which was quite disturbing was how it showed her family seemed aware of her bulimia and her addictions and yet did not urge her strongly enough to seek help/rehabilitation. Amy’s father Mitch has since objected to the film’s portrayal of Amy.
Having also read Mitch’s book Amy, My Daughter, I’m not sure what to think. The movie does seem to show a balanced view of Amy in my opinion, neither condemning nor condoning her lifestyle. Kapadia mentions in interviews that he was not overly familiar with Amy or a fan prior to making the movie. Amy is such a controversial figure that if you are a fan you will defend her to the death and if you dislike her, you will hate her. Kapadia is able to take a neutral stance.
Throughout the movie, Amy’s friends are adamant that there were opportunities where she could have been saved or at least given adequate treatment. Amy did enter rehab more than once, including one brief stint with Blake Fielder-Civil her then husband. Footage from the stay shows Blake trying to persuade Amy to sing “Rehab” while in rehab, almost goading her. Amy keeps refusing and then says quietly “But I kind of like it here.”
For me the most poignant scene was when Amy is performing via video-link at The Grammys. Having been banned from entering the US due to her reputation, Amy is forced to remain in the UK. She is watching an award being presented by jazz legend Tony Bennett. When the announcer describes Bennett as one of the greatest jazz singers, Amy declares “That’s right!” in her strong Cockney twang. In disbelief she repeats into the microphone “Dad! Dad! It’s Tony Bennett!” Seconds later, Amy is announced as the winner. The look on her face is incredible. Amy won five Grammys that night out of six nominations. It should have been a celebratory night however Amy’s life-long friend Juliet tells another story. According to her, backstage Amy sighed “This is so boring without drugs…”
Equally endearing is the footage of Amy getting nervous while recording with Tony Bennett in studio. It’s obvious how much Amy wanted to perfect the song while performing with Bennett.
Amy’s lyrics feature on-screen throughout the movie as do live performances and recordings. We also get a taster of some of her final lyrics towards the end of the movie. It left me with the longing to dust down the CDs and listen to her again.
The movie is very powerful however I did feel slightly disconnected and as though part of the story was missing in order to make the documentary work. I expected to find the movie very emotional towards the end however it’s the happiest scenes that made me feel emotional.We are left with the sense that you will never know the full story. In some ways Amy’s music is the most powerful narrator, it’s not hard to know how she was feeling when listening to her songs. In the movie Amy mentions that she didn’t want to write or sing a song unless its something she’s personally experienced. On listening to her songs, you realise Amy had heartbreak and sadness but also a reckless self-destructive streak. It is really sad knowing she will never make music again or that there will never be another Amy Winehouse. However the saddest part is the loss suffered by her friends and family, not the fans or the music industry’s loss. It is obvious Amy’s loved ones still mourn her and the film is a testament to their personal relationships and friendships also.
I saw this premiere screening in the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield which is a lovely cinema. It was a special screening which included a Q & A session with the director, producer and Amy’s friend and former manager Nick Shymansky who filmed much of the home footage.
Have you seen the film? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. As always thank you for reading and you can like my blog on Facebook here.
R.I.P Amy 14th September 1983- 23rd July 2011.