It is difficult to watch Amy; the Asif Kapadia documentary/biopic that is a modern tragedy about Amy Winehouse that offers a “fly-on-the-wall” look at the rise, fall and death of a young legend. As one who watched the meteoric rise of Ms. Winehouse in England (and listened; it was nigh on impossible when Amy started “hitting” to not hear her on the radio with increasing regularity) this unflinching look at this doomed performer tends to move the viewer to tears.
Young, talented beyond her years, vulnerable and infinitely watchable in the beginning, Amy Winehouse is seen, via the auspices of personal footage shot by family and friends, first as the spotty faced youngster who wrote songs and sang them in a voice comparable to no other and then the gaunt ghost fighting hidden demons.
The grammy winning artist died, after a battle with drugs, a destructive marriage to an addicted hanger-on who used the girl as his enabler and a father who appeared to be more interested in profiting from his daughter’s success, in 2011. The singer/songwriter binged on alcohol and literally drank herself to death in her Camden flat in London.
To watch Amy is to relive her short life, where critics and music lovers adored the young performer and her unique sound. Winehouse was direct, sometimes coarse and always honest, she was a breath of fresh air who took music by storm. It is also interesting to note that the young girl opted to make her mark on a world where everyone could capture her journey on their cell (mobile) phones or HD cameras.
These glimpses of her rise and death are a reminder of just what the price of fame really is. Winehouse’s popularity and the public’s interest in her music prompted the worst of behavior from many. The paparazzi surrounded the young star like a pack of piranha during a feeding frenzy, especially after her deteriorating health and obvious drug problems.
The documentary shows just how self destructive Winehouse was. Asif shows each player in the film without artifice. Her former husband Blake Fielder-Civil is shown to be an opportunist womanizer who left Amy when her path to fame became too slow but rushed back the moment Back to Black became a hit.
Amy’s destructive relationship with Blake is clear as is her troubled relationship with father Mitch. The man who left the girl and her mother is someone that Amy seems desperate to love. The film also shows how the drugs began to rule her life. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the documentary is how the media and the industry took jabs at Winehouse’s problems.
The entertainer who set the world alight became an object of ridicule both in the press and on television. Fame, this film tells us, is a vindictive and two-faced b*tch. The same people who sang Amy’s praises, i.e. TV hosts like Jay Leno, et al, began to make jokes about Winehouse’s addiction problems and downward spiral.
Perhaps the biggest message is that Amy Winehouse was best when she was unhappy or troubled. The artist was driven to sing her songs and pursued fame doggedly while turning her problems into hit songs. Tony Bennett, who recorded a duet with Winehouse towards the end of her life, says she had an old soul [sic} with her music. This young woman from London had a voice like no other. Her creativity was forged in misery, Blake leaving her promoted her first real hit just as her drug problems resulted in another.
Mitch Winehouse has been very vocal about the documentary saying that Asif Kapadia has lied with his documentary and he is not the only person to make this allegation. Several British newspapers published articles saying that this short “snap” of Amy’s life and death is skewed and meant to disturb.
Watching the film is an exercise in heartbreak. What few have mentioned is that the footage does show a playful, childlike side to this “old soul” who could mesmerize with her voice alone. Amy Winehouse was a tragedy. Her fame, combined with a perfect storm of bad choices in love, a father that perhaps got caught up in his daughter’s fame too much and a wildly talented force doomed to sell destruct all too soon, is a cautionary tale at best.
Be careful what you wish for is too simplistic and the Icarus comparison pales when one considers that Amy Winehouse, as a songwriter and performer, soared past the sun and stars to die in a Camden flat before she was 30 because her star was a black one, marred by humanity and a perverse interest in tearing down those we put on pedestals.
Amy may be skewed but in the end it does not really matter, as it does capture the senselessness of Winehouse’s death and the tragedy behind her success. Watch this documentary a take its message to heart, but bring a box of tissues for the tears.