by E. Ladd
Whether you loved her or hated her, most people at least recognize the name Amy Winehouse, the British pop/jazz icon who died in July of 2011 at the young age of 27. The documentary Amy tells the story of the girl who was once touted as the “voice-of-a-generation,” known for both her tattoo-covered appearance, (complete with enormous black beehive and exaggerated cat eye liner), and the sultry, bluesy voice and songs which earned her multiple Grammys and chart-topping hits. Her time as a superstar was incredibly well publicized, including her descent into drug use and scandal. Amy sheds some light on the human being behind her once glowing, later tabloid-shamed public persona.
Director Asif Kapadia (known for the 2010 documentary Senna) opens the film with a never-before-seen home video of teenage Amy goofing around with friends and singing a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in her Southgate London home, circa 1998. From there, using concert and interview footage, paparazzi photos, and even more home movies and mobile phone videos, he follows the timeline of her life, documenting Amy’s spectacular rise to stardom while also examining the effects of fame on a fragile soul fueled by addiction and personal demons—which resulted in her untimely demise.
The film presents an illuminating portrayal of the girl behind the pop star image. Kapaida cleverly includes onscreen lyrics along with vocal tracks and videos of Winehouse singing to really bring home the impact and meaning behind her songs (which, unbeknownst to me, were all written or co-written by her) and which tell of her heartbreak, her experiences, and ultimately, the story of her life. The interviewees, speaking off camera, include her closest childhood friends and first manager, her parents, ex-husband, longtime bodyguard, producers, record executives, and notable fellow musicians Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Tony Bennett. The film pulls no punches when assigning blame to those individuals who appeared to be using her for personal gain, nor are we in doubt about those who truly cared for her but were unable to help before it was too late. You can’t help feeling empathy for Amy. You can’t help wondering how life could’ve turned out differently for her. And you can’t really deny the fact that she had talent, despite what you might have once previously believed. It’s an eye-opening, moving, often devastating, and beautifully crafted documentary—a must-see for Winehouse fans, for sure. And bring tissues. Seriously.
Watch the trailer for Amy
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