Amy: a review of the Winehouse documentary

10 Sep

amy paintingWhen six-time Grammy winner Amy Winehouse passed away in July 2011, most attributed her rapid decline to the destructive nature of international fame. Magazine and news reporters descended on her personal struggle (with drugs, alcohol and bulimia) like a flock of vultures. Watching her burn the crack pipe at both ends became its own depraved carnival of affairs – a self-sabotage in slow motion. And while many were unable to see the real Amy through the media-censored lens, there is now a film that looks beneath the heavy kohl eyeliner and demented beehive hairdo…

Amy, out this year from the somewhat offbeat pairing of art house production studio A24 and DirecTV, does what it can to reveal the “real” Amy Winehouse – as she was to those who loved her most dearly. Directed by Asif Kapadia, the film tells the full Winehouse story, beyond the scope of the tabloids. Although he takes care not to leave those parts out either, Kapadia also endeavors to humanize his subject. Coming to understand the other chapters of her life is crucial if one is to gain a proper picture of her demise.

Asif-Kapadia-006Through archived footage of Winehouse from her early teens through to her death, and statements collected from more than 100 interviews conducted with family, friends and coworkers, Kapadia shows a more complete picture of Winehouse as a creative, sensitive and artistic soul. Her love of music truly surpassed her love of fame.

While Kapadia stands by his final product, Amy has her critics, most notably her own father, who felt that Kapadia misrepresented his statements and intentions toward his daughter. Kapadia maintains that he could not rewrite parts of Winehouse’s life to make it seem more “pleasant” regardless of how much he would have liked to. Instead, he felt it was more important to accurately represent all those involved, using their own words whenever possible.

mark ronsonOne of the strongest proponents of the Amy film has been Mark Ronson, the producer of her highly-successful pop soul album Back to Black. Ronson was heavily involved in providing both footage and interview material for the documentary, and he has spoken of his satisfaction with the final product. A major force in the UK music industry, Ronson expressed in the film his own affinity both for Amy and her prodigious musical gifts.

While it ultimately serves as a reminder as to why she achieved such remarkable fame in the first place, it also shows the fact that attaining international notoriety was something she was never interested in to begin with. Becoming known on a worldwide scale was something she neither valued nor chased, and it’s easy to see how the hollow business of fame can fuel the smallest inclinations towards self-destruction.

amy guitarMany may find it hard not to compare her life and struggles with other artists who led similarly conflicted lives, faced similar issues in the limelight, and had documentaries made following their deaths. Winehouse is in good company among other members of the infamous “Club 27,” a group of talented celebrities who did not live to see past their 27th year. Perhaps the most notable among these comparisons is Kurt Cobain, who was the star of another recently released documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Like Winehouse, Cobain struggled with fame and his “media image”, a fight that eventually drove him to take his own life in 1994.

In the end, Amy stands as a successful true-to-life tribute to the incredible talent and potential that died with Winehouse when she passed away much too soon. It also stands as a testament to the power of the media, touching on the unhealthy obsessions we have with those in the public eye. Like lambs to the slaughter, fame can indeed be a double-edged sword – one that will cut down many who wield it.


Beth_KellyBeth Michelle is a Chicago-based blogger with a nasty film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, fashion photography and vintage Japanese film cameras.


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