When we look at an artist, we sometimes think what life must have been for them. Amy is a tragic documentary about the troubled artist who never could reconcile her childhood trauma without self-destruction. It’s a heartbreaking look at a sweet girl who grew up too fast, who’s father was never there and grew up suppressing that void by means of alcohol, drugs and lovers who provide only a facile sense of companionship. When we look at the artist, past and contemporary, the trappings of fame sometimes manifest in many ugly ways. The glare of the public eye, the expectations to please, the fading between the lines of public and private and the industry’s aggrandizing nature may simply be too much for a girl who simply wanted to live. Asif Kapadia’s documentary features raw footage of the singer in her own words. For fans of hers’ and for first-time listeners to her music like me, you’ll appreciate that the docu asks nothing of us and provides no judgement of its own – This is her life told through her own experience. Amy is quite often a tumultuous viewing experience in its latter stages and a little mundane at the start but stick with it and you’ll find the film’s beating heart; It reveberates with the tune of a simple girl who died fighting to hold onto her true self.
One of the reasons why the documentary is so heartfelt stems from it’s almost unedited style. Asif Kapadia took footage from Amy’s own videos which she tooked all the way from when she wasn’t famous yet till her tragic end. This unadulterated style felt somewhat slow at the start so don’t expect to be moved early on. Having not known her story before, I felt a little guilty thinking the first part of the docu was a little self-absorbed. I mean it’s basically just a girl whose a little troubled and sad and derives joy from singing. But it’s only after I’ve seen the whole thing that I realize that I was looking at it wrongly at the start. Amy puts on no shows and that’s really the point. She tries hard, and I mean really tries, to stay true to her music. I admire her for sticking to her retro jazz style even when people tried to change her; She was steadfast.
But what’s sad was that even though her music remained, her life was thrown into a downslope of despair. Granted, she had a childhood that caused her much pain and the docu showed just how mercenary and irresponsible her father was. Amy’s quoted saying that he left them when she was a child and all she ever wanted was a dad to be there for her. The lack of a strong father figure lead to a string of lovers who she chanced upon quickly to fill that emptiness. It’s sad because I can’t help but feel that it only aggravated her condition. The docu had a no holds barred approach in fleshing out the fragile figure that was Amy and it’s a heartbreaking watch to see her fall for the wrong people at every turn. Her song ‘Rehab’ which contains the famous lines ‘They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no,no,no.’ isn’t actually what it seems. She did go to rehab. And she wanted to as well. But look past the lexical meaning and Amy’s metaphorical voice is crying out for help; “Rehab” is about how the world tries to condition her into being something that she isn’t.
Kapadia’s docu charts the frantic nature of her fame and exposed the different players who tried to use, market, manipulate her. There are numerous times where the film simply shows a still frame of Amy while voice-overs or Amy’s songs are played. It’s a nifty touch that slows down and lets us ponder, something which Amy would’ve longed for as well. Needless to say, the stills and slow-mo are extremely effective at hitting home the irony that Amy’s blinding and meteoric rise and fall constantly deprives her of a peace of mind. And while we as an audience have enriched ourselves with her music, may we also wish that Amy Winehouse has found something enriching in creating it. Indeed, there are many clips of how her demise provides fodder for jokes by people like Jay Leno and people of his ilk. An english/scottish comedian gave a really mean joke and it was at that point that I realized how hypocritical society has become. We feed off people’s troubles for our instiable need for entertainment. While most of the docu is about troubled Amy becomes, what’s more troubling is our warped indulgence in tragedy. Be ashamed, be very ashamed people.
Like a letter trapped in a bottle that has sailed off to sea, Amy is a documentary worth preserving. There’s nothing artificial here and there’s really nothing that isn’t shown. The archival footage is as real as one can get. From the emotional high to the darkest depths of her life’s nadir, from the birthday cakes to the half smoked weed, from her bubbling radiance to her wrecked frame, the whole truth is shown in its most unflinching light. Amy Winehouse is a friend to some and an icon for others, but to me, she’s a tortured soul whose songs conveyed all that she couldn’t achieve in real life. It’s a difficult watch seeing how her songs resonated but she felt alienated. Rest in peace Amy, you’re in a better place now.
The beautiful poster by Joe Murtagh, check out his work here
Pictures credited to Amy Winehouse
And this is my favourite song of her’s which I instantly fell in love with ❤ This is the first time I’ve heard her songs and her voice is really beautiful. So jazzy ahhh