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Posted on July 13, 2015
By: Danielle Levsky
Director: Asif Kapadia
Release Date: July 10, 2015
“She was raw, fast with a joke or a drink. She was a charmer, a sweetheart, and could smoke anyone under the table.”
Yasiin Bey encounters Amy Winehouse’s rich, soulful voice after the release of the album Frank in 2003. This is when things start to get bad, when things start to change. She moves to Camden and instead of writing new songs and recording new albums, she spends her days drinking and playing pool. She meets Blake Fielder-Civil, her to-be boyfriend and husband, the inspiration for “Back to Black,” and her catalyst for using crack-cocaine.
Asif Kapadia directs the documentary Amy, arranging the film so that intimate, never-before-seen photos and videos of Winehouse are juxtaposed alongside her family and friends’ voice-overs on their experiences with her. When Winehouse is shown writing or singing a new song, Kapadia shows how she focuses so intensely, playing demo tracks and fully recorded tracks over an overlay of lyrics, sheet music, and footage of her playing the songs on her guitar.
In 2005, Blake breaks up with her for the first time and there is a video recording of her looking like a ghost, the first of many such clips where her eyes are wide and full of loss and fear. The cycle starts here: she is depressed, eating little, and drinking so often that she “wakes up and goes to the bottle.” Winehouse’s friends stage an intervention to get her into rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. In the song that made her famous, “Rehab,” Winehouse sings about how her father told her she didn’t need go into rehab (I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine/He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go, go, go). In Kapadia’s film, Mitchell tells his side:
“I said, ‘You don’t have to go to rehab.’ I think that’s the moment we lost a key opportunity. She’d have a chance to be dealt with by professionals before the world wanted a piece of her.”
Her career, personal life, and addictions continue on a trajectory of highs and lows, and Kapadia shows just how obsessed the paparazzi was with every aspect of her life; they even follow her and take shots of her recovering from an overdose. Video clips follow her and the paparazzi that surround her like packs of wolves. The simultaneous flashes of camera are synonymous with the sound of gunshots being fired, tearing away at her piece by piece. In a October 2003 interview, young Winehouse explains how she feels about fame: “I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous. I don’t think I can handle it. I’ll probably go mad.”
Watching Winehouse fall deeper and deeper into her own despair is maddening in itself because it is evident that it was not just paparazzi but also family and so-called friends who pushed her over the brink. From a young age, her parents admit to ignoring her problems with depression and bulimia. Janis, her mother, records a statement that Winehouse told her when she was 15 over a video clip of young Winehouse and her family: “I got this great diet. I eat what I want and then I bring it up.” Mitchell, her father, who she loved so dearly, might be the person that is portrayed the worst in the documentary. In 2009, Fielder-Civil is arrested on drug charges and the two divorce. Winehouse avoids a total breakdown by moving to St. Lucia. She stops using drugs, but Mitchell shows up with a camera crew to create a reality show about being her father. Her manager, Ray Cosbert, refuses to take responsibility for her drug usage, claiming there’s only “so much of what [he] can do” and pushing her to get on stage when she is at her worst moments.
Despite her fragile state, other musicians, like Tony Bennett, recognize that she is a dark but talented star. In 2011, she records the song Body and Soul for his album of duets. Winehouse regarded Bennett as one of her greatest idols. He finishes the documentary marking Winehouse as “one of the greats,” putting her on the same level as Ella Fitzgerald. He laments that if she were still alive, he would have told her that “life teaches you how to live it… as long as you live long enough.”
The last words she said to Andrew Morris, her bodyguard, sum up her story better than I ever could: “If I could give it back… just to walk down the street with no hassle… I would.”
Score: 8 out of 10