Amy Winehouse’s life had a certain inevitability to it from the first time she burst onto the scene. Anchored by a weak support network of enablers and hangers on, some of whom unfortunately included closes relatives, her lyrics often hinted to where the talented artists’ life was headed.
Asif Kapadia’s Amy tells the tale of Winehouse’s brief life through a series of interviews and home videos supplied by family and friends. The documentary dives into her world around the time her debut album, Frank, was released. Similar to his documentary Senna, Kapadia lets the information speak for itself. He evokes a haunting portrait of Winehouse’s life through conversations with her long time friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, her first manager-turned-close friend Nick Shymansky, and ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil to name a few.
The former love of her life, Blake Fielder-Civil clearly did not have the singer’s best interests at heart. Her two best friends recount an incident when they found Winehouse unconscious on the floor of a tropical resort after a long distance lover’s quarrel with her then beau. They also recall the time the troubled couple spent days in Winehouse’s Camden North London flat grotesquely abusing heroin, which ultimately landed her in hospital and him in jail.
The most curious subject in the film is her father Mitch Winehouse. The film alludes to the fact that she respected her father’s opinion and might have gone on a different path had he stepped in sooner. By making Winehouse think that she could handle the fame, and not addressing her problems, he only further fueled her addiction. As Winehouse herself points out in an early interview, she was never prepared to endure life as a famous public figure. The debate amongst family, friends and her manager as to whether her vices were getting the better of her served as the foundation for her biggest hit, Rehab.
On top of all the alcohol and drug abuse, years of battling bulimia, dating back to her teen years, were destroying her inner organs. Amy shows that Winehouse got to a point in her life where she could no longer function without abusing some sort of substance. She deemed her 2008 Record of the Year win at the Grammy Awards boring since she was sober at the time. After falling off the wagon again, one of her lowest points professionally came when, after binge drinking prior to boarding a plane, a smashed Winehouse was booed off stage at the 2011 Belgrade Festival for refusing to sing.
As one can imagine, the subject matter on screen is often hard to watch. Similar to Kurt Cobain, a fellow member of the notorious 27 club, popular musicians who met their demised at age 27, Kapadia points to the divorce of her parents, when she was 9, as a pivotal point when Winehouse went from a happy outgoing child to a rebellious youth. However, her love of music never faltered. In a record label audition at 16 we see a healthy girl who succulently states that the music on the radio today does not speak to her. Instead she wrote her own songs, played guitar, and sung with the voice of a jazz / blues singer from the 20’s. Her icons were not the artists feature on shows such as Top of the Pop, but rather the likes of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.
Amy is a sad and tragic tale of a great voice that was taken from the world too soon. The chaos of family, fame and substance abuse set the singer on a path that only had one clear ending. The distressing thing is that, without these destructive factors in her life, her music may not have been as rich and powerful. As Winehouse stated early on in her career, she won’t write a song unless it is personal. Kapadia’s film takes this line of thought. Amy is a deeply personal documentary that I highly recommend.