A Sad, Tragic, Brilliant “Amy”
By Skip Sheffield
Alas poor Amy Winehouse, we hardly knew ye. Thanks to the new documentary “Amy” we understand better the pain behind your songs.
“Amy” is a documentary film by Asif Kapadia, who grew up in the same unfashionable north London neighborhood as Amy Winehouse. He previously collaborated with James Gay-Rees (producer) and Chris King (editor) on the acclaimed 2010 sports documentary “Senna,” about F1 driver Ayrton Senna. Using archival footage, “Amy” depicts the award-winning singer-songwriter from childhood to her untimely death of acute alcohol poisoning at age 27 on July 23, 2011.
Amy Winehouse was not your typical British schoolgirl. Born into a blue-collar Jewish family, her parents split when she was just 9. From a very early age Amy showed she was special. One of the first clips shows her singing “Moon River” at age 16, accompanying herself on guitar. She was already an accomplished performer, but “Amy” is not as much about the artist as it is about an abused, tortured soul, much like Janis Joplin in America. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that both died at age 27, as did fellow tortured artists Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.
It seems like Amy was abused and taken advantage of by everyone close to her. The worst offender was her own father Mitch, who neglected her as a child and cashed in on her when she got famous. There were other villains, particularly her boyfriend Blake, who became her husband and codependent drug addict.
“We were like twins,” Amy muses. “We were in love. Love is a real drug.”
The hard part of making this documentary was getting people close to Amy willing to talk about her. Tenaciously Asif Kapadia stayed on the case and got people to open up. In some cases I am sure they regret being so candid. While she was a brilliant songwriter with a rare and beautiful voice, Amy was emotionally damaged before she ever was famous. She was rebellious and unruly. She also was a rare and wonderful artist
As her fame grew, alcohol became a favorite escape. It is a cruel irony that her first worldwide hit was the “Rehab Song,” with its chorus of “No, no, no.” Her 2008 album “Back to Black” won a stunning five Grammy Awards, tying the record for female artist and making her the most successful female British singer-songwriter in history. If there is anything to be learned from “Amy” it’s that certain people just can’t handle extreme fame. Sadly Amy Winehouse was such a person, and no one did enough to prevent her self-destruction. The great Tony Bennett, who recorded duets with Amy, provides a beautiful, regretful tribute to a once-in-a-lifetime talent that provides a fitting finale to the film.