Review by Ross Lines
Asif Kapadia's unflinching documentary on the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, is an eye opening and often harrowing insight into the real girl behind the beehive and scrutiny of the red tops. The film opens with footage of Amy in her early teens with friends, innocent but a twinkle in her eye, already gifted with that sultry, smoky voice destined for Jazz clubs and, later, the world's stage.
As with Senna, Kapadia avoids talking heads and sticks to voiceovers from those who were closest to Amy, from childhood friends and family to her first manager, which proves effective and intimate throughout.
It's refreshing to see Amy in her true light, full of face, intelligent, enigmatic, with a wicked sense of humour. The uncompromising attitude always shining through. Dedicated to her craft and losing herself in the music, we are reminded just how good her voice was, especially in footage of stripped back songs - a guitar her only accompaniment. As her star begins to rise with the launch of her first album “Frank”, we see the corruptible elements of her environment appear.
Winehouse lived her life through her lyrics, she wore her heart on her sleeve and her most loved men on her skin. Both Blake Fielder and her father Mitch have important roles to play here. Mitch Winehouse has distanced himself from the film, taking issue with how he has been portrayed, neither he or Fielder come out well but the film remains subjective, Kapadia's returning theme of letting the footage tell the story can hardly be argued with and there is no victimisation here. If anything, she was a girl yearning for the love of a father who wasn't always there and a man whose mutual feelings created a physically toxic chemistry.
Moving to Back to Black it's evident that this album was a gift and a curse, much like Truman Capote's book “In Cold Blood”. It became her undoing, the genius of her lyrics was due to the fact she was living them (see 'Rehab') and the sudden media glare following the success of that single exacerbating her need for dependency, be it drugs, alcohol or Blake. The startling footage of this little girl lost in a sea of endlessly flashing bulbs is disturbing, each flash a gunshot wound to the staggering songstress. Poor decisions from her 'people' such as forcing her to perform shows she could neither physically or mentally handle, reveal her downfall was the fault of many, including TV show hosts of much repute feeding off of her like vultures, and the public lapping up the public execution.
There are avenues left somewhat unexplored, her relationship with her mother is skipped over briefly and it would have been nice to hear more on her song writing process. But altogether Amy is a fine portrayal of an immense talent, a modern Billie Holiday suffering from a mental illness that was ignored or not addressed until it was too late. Both Amy and her idol Tony Bennett reveal that Jazz singers prefer a small audience, maybe because of the intimate nature of the songs. Perhaps when it is all said and done, she was performing for too many people - both on and off the stage.
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