OP-ROB RATING: LEGEND
“Amy” is a documentary directed by Asif Kapadia, the same man behind the award winning film "Senna". The documentary masterfully unfolds the heart-wrenching story of the late singer, Amy Winehouse, and does so with great reverence toward the artist, and more importantly the person.
Much of the documentary is focused on the music of Amy Winehouse. The lyrics to her songs are displayed on the screen in subtitles of her own handwriting. Kapadia makes sure the audience realizes just how reflective Amy’s music was of what was going on in her life. Listening to one of her songs is akin to delving into the private diary of a troubled girl. We see her life story through home movies and the lens of the paparazzi; her music provides the narrative.
What I found most moving about Amy Winehouse was her unconditional love. Love for a husband that introduced her to toxic addictions, squandered her money and left her repeatedly for another girl. Love for a father that, at the very least, was too busy enjoying and insuring Amy’s financial success, to care for her physical and emotional wellbeing. Love for a series of managers and promoters that would go so far as to put her on stage wasted rather than cancel a show.
When I initially saw the trailer for “Amy” I had my doubts. I thought to myself, “Well its great that she had this sweet side, but what about the partying and the bawdy image she made for herself? Isn’t that her fault?” After seeing “Amy” I can say that the self-destructive behaviors and bad-girl brand may have simply been byproducts of the people around her. Perhaps none of those things were done out of selfishness, publicity or personal pleasure. As Kapadia would have us believe, Amy Winehouse sought only to love those around her and it was her unrelenting investment in those she loved that ultimately killed her. He illustrates a very convincing argument.
The start to Amy’s downward spiral came when her true friends left her side. These friends included her former manager Nick Shymansky and two of her childhood girlfriends, Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert. Throughout the entire film it is clear that these three individuals were the only people that loved Amy with no strings attached. Why she distanced herself from these people is a question that the audience is left to explore. Perhaps Amy Winehouse's greatest flaw was her inability to identify the people who were truly good for her until it was too late.
One important revelation I gained from the film was just how emotional Amy Winehouse was as an artist. The words in her songs were written in blood, and I can only imagine how painful it was for her to perform them sometimes. One of the more tender scenes in the documentary comes when Amy starts recording with one of her music idols, Tony Bennett. In this scene Amy is nervous, sober, and at her very best as a singer. She botches the first take on a duet with Bennett, but after the living legend offers some gentle words of encouragement, she rises above and beyond the occasion. Although “Rehab” was the song that put Amy Winehouse on every front page in America, she was a jazz singer at heart. The music of Amy Winehouse wasn’t meant for massive crowds or wild music festivals, but instead for small venues where people could quietly listen and experience the clarity of emotion that beamed through her music. The scene with Bennett affirms her rightful place in jazz music, as Bennett himself later said, "the great ones that are very talented know just how to turn jazz singing into a performance that's unforgettable. And Amy had that gift."
In one of the final scenes Amy is booed off the stage at a show in Belgrade; a show she was forced into by her management. In the all of the disappointment and calamity in the crowd, there is also a sense of spectacle. As if the sight of Amy stumbling around in sheer drunkenness were entertaining. For many people, this will be the Amy Winehouse that is remembered, a considerable talent that succumbed to substance abuse and pursuit of celebrity in the public eye. That is why I am glad that Asif Kapadia was able to provide a different view of Amy Winehouse in “Amy”. Instead of looking at the glitz, lunacy, and horror of Amy’s short stint at the top of the music world, he focuses on her time before the spotlight. When supportive and loving friends surrounded her, a time when she played her music for small crowds who were awed by her performances.
For those who decide to see “Amy”, a new person with a familiar face will emerge to be remembered . A woman so brilliant at singing that she ranks among the most gifted to ever pick up a microphone; a kind, yet haunted soul who gave her all for those she loved.