When Amy Winehouse was alive, I didn’t know much about her. The only things I did know about her were from the news reports about her bad behavior, and the late-night jokes that Letterman and Leno told about her. I also wasn’t a big fan of her music, though I must say that the sole song that I knew from her catalog was the monster hit “Rehab.” After watching “Amy” not only am I in love with her, I want to listen to every song that she ever recorded.
The film, by noted filmmaker Asif Kapadia, starts off with a small birthday celebration shot on home video with three 14-year-old girls mugging for the camera. Amy is almost unrecognizable, as the sweet and somewhat shy girl, until she starts singing “Happy Birthday to You.” Out of this little girl comes a voice that, even at her young age, could already be described as one of the best Jazz vocalists ever.
That’s the fascinating thing about Kapadia’s documentary; you get to know Amy from a young age before fame came crashing down upon her. The film, through a series of home videos, allows us to see and fall in love with Amy before drugs, and alcohol got of a hold of her. The film is told through Amy’s voice using home movies, interviews with her, footage of her recording sessions and live performances. All Amy wanted to do was be a Jazz singer. Her idols were singers like Tony Bennet t and Ella Fitzgerald. She wanted to spend her days writing songs and spend her nights singing in small jazz clubs.
If she had followed that path, Amy would probably be alive. Unfortunately, Amy’s life didn’t turn out that way. Because of a series of events, some caused by herself and her demons, others by the people that were close to her, she was on the road to ruin.
The film uses Amy, friends, family and band members, to narrate the movie, using sub-titles to set the timeline. It’s a brilliant move, as we see a pattern of which people are in Amy’s corner and, which are out for themselves. What I didn’t know before I saw the film, was that Amy wrote most of her songs. The film brilliantly uses her notebooks to display the lyrics of her songs on the screen as she sings them. Because Amy wrote about what was troubling her or what she was experiencing, these shots of lyrics on the screen give us an understanding of what Amy was feeling at the time. We get to see and know where Amy was coming from and how deeply she was hurt. Most of the “Back to Black” was about a break up with a boyfriend whom she would eventually marry.
It’s fascinating to watch Amy record her music, whether it’s working on “Back to Black” in a recording studio or recording a duet with one of her idols, Tony Bennett. It gives us a chance to see just how talented a vocalist she was. The early footage of her playing in jazz clubs also gives us an insight to how well she played the guitar (a fact that not a lot of fans know about).
Unfortunately, Amy’s life seems doomed almost from the start. Her father, who she idolized, had an affair when Amy was still a baby and divorced Amy’s mom when Amy was 9. It was the start of the slow, downhill slide of Amy’s life. Amy notes herself, in an on-screen interview, how much of her personality changed after that traumatic event. There are a number of scenes in the movie of Amy smiling and laughing but not as many after her song hit it big, and she started playing the areas and huge outdoor festivals.
The last third of the film is tough to watch. She makes a bad decision (getting married to fellow addict Blake Fielder) after a bad decision (inviting her father to join her on an island vacation). The movie shows us what effect the drugs had on her appearance and her behavior. Between her drug habit, her alcoholism, and her bulimia, she was doomed. However, it’s to the credit of Kapadia on how strongly her death hits us. We know it’s coming and because we have fallen hard for her, we hope it won’t happen. Unfortunately, fate had a different choice. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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