Thursday, June 25, 2015

“Amy”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a sneak preview of “Amy” , a new documentary about the late singer Amy Winehouse, at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center.


Video and audio recordings from her mid-teens made it clear Amy Winehouse was a talented singer; from a home video taken at a friend’s birthday party, some of the guests sang “Happy Birthday” -- when Amy joined, they quieted down so everyone could listen to her unique sound. Nicky, a slightly-older friend of Amy’s, was equally impressed by her ability and urged her to pursue it professionally – to prove his belief in her, he became Amy’s original manager. Seeing Amy enjoyed writing poetry, he convinced her to set them to music; with that, her career as a singer-songwriter was born.

Once Nick was able to start getting Amy gigs, she enjoyed her independence -- especially when it came to getting away from her parents so she could openly smoke marijuana. Despite that restriction, Amy’s parents were still too permissive; this is most true of her mother, who never gave her any boundaries and pretty much let her get away with anything.  The situation deteriorated when her parents separated. Following her father’s departure, Amy turned promiscuous and soon incorporated alcohol with her marijuana usage. As Amy’s career was beginning to gain traction, she met Blake; something of a wild man himself, he only helped to accelerate her substance abuse.

After a couple of albums and numerous music awards, Amy became a fully qualified star in the industry -- something for which she was not only ill-prepared but also truly never thought would ever occur. Now that she and Blake were married, he took this as an opportunity to step up the partying and turned on Amy to harder drugs -- namely, cocaine (including crack) and heroin. Insecure about her sudden fame, Amy self-medicated with increased alcohol intake. Following a scare from an overdose, she finally consented to professional treatment; but afterward, she could only stay clean for so long. Eventually, Amy was booked for a tour that started in Serbia, but when she took the stage, she was clearly in no shape to perform and was booed; shortly thereafter, she finally succumbed to her substance abuse issues, dying at the age of 27 in 2011.


Oh, the Hot Mess that was once Amy Winehouse.

There is the old joke about how many psychologists it takes to change a lightbulb -- only one, according to the punchline, but the lightbulb has to want to change; clearly, the late great Amy Winehouse was one lightbulb who was determined not to change. Despite a near-death experience in the form of an overdose, a stint at a remote rehabilitation facility and importuning by friends, family and colleagues, Winehouse steadfastly resisted all attempts at help to stop a lifestyle that quickly spun out of control. Even on a Caribbean vacation with friends where no drugs were available, she spent a good deal of it drunk.

“Amy” is an incredibly informative and educational documentary by filmmaker Asif Kapadia, providing plenty of useful graphics to explain who’s narrating a particular video clip and when that clip or audio tape was recorded. This is important to both understand the relationship the speaker had to the movie’s subject and also supplements a context to appreciate the point in Winehouse’s life to better know when certain events occurred. Another clever implementation of graphics in the documentary is the director’s displaying the lyrics to some of Winehouse’s songs as she performs them onscreen. By reading the lyrics, we see she was blunt and open regarding her feelings about herself and others.

One of the things learned about Winehouse is the fact that she was a long-time bulimic. While some may have assumed Winehouse’s frail physique was a direct result of her various substance abuse, the truth is that she actually suffered from bulimia since her mid-teens; this carried on well into her twenties and likely continued until her death -- her parents (the mother, in particular) either unwilling or unable to get young Amy help with this struggle. A rather pleasant surprise that comes from watching so many video clips is what a terrific sense of humor Winehouse had.

Such attention to detail only serves to tell the singer’s story more clearly and connect the dots to see what events led to certain behavior. Kapadia’s research and ability to locate so many video and audio recordings from Winehouse’s teenage years is equally remarkable. While a bit long for most documentaries (it’s a little over two hours), it never contains a dull moment.

Amy (2015) on IMDb


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