Amy Winehouse was one of Britain’s great music icons, a pop star with soul; a rare musical talent whose appeal crossed cultural and demographic boundaries. But while her music made her a star, her chaotic personal life stole headlines. With rare interviews and neverbeforeseen archival footage, Amy takes us behind the sensationalised headlines to reveal a prodigiously talented young
woman whose life ended far too soon. In the beginning of her success Amy Winehouse emerges as driven and difficult, with a need for adoring courtiers. Director Asif Kapadia introduces a string of male colleagues described as “friends”, and leaves it to us to decide which ones were more than that. Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, recently suggested that the director had failed to represent his own actions fairly, actually he has the most poignant, well-meaning quality in the film that makes him more memorable than Blake Amy’s husband, who appears to have introduced her to hard drugs and a codependent, toxic relationship in which he could never quite get over his own insignificance. It is an intimate and passionate tribute, tracing the awful trajectory of her celebrity destiny the takeoff from the cliff edge and responding to the mystery of Winehouse’s voice. Her switch from the sound of streetwise north London in everyday speech to a rich, textured, Sarah Vaughan-type singing voice is stunning, like some benign version of The Exorcist. Jonathan Ross is shown congratulating her on being
“common” and his identifying the elephant in the room is to the point, although the film doesn’t press the point of how that voice just surged up. Her face radiates wit and life. The moment in which she visibly twitches with boredom and irritation while an interviewer asks her about Dido is superb, as is her tragically disconnected response to the news of a major award. She couldn’t enjoy it properly, she confessed, because she was not on drugs. Perhaps inevitably, it is the song Rehab that is the kernel of the film’s power, a personal and musical moment of destiny. Cinema and show business are obsessed with the comeback and the second chance, and maybe if she had lived, Amy would have recorded Redemption. At any rate, Rehab was the result of almost diabolic inspiration and self-mythology, which triggered the supernova of fame. The idea of refusing rehab was a challenge to the hypocrisy and brutality of an industry that spitefully targets famous people being punished for their gilded lives by being unhappy. Like the film Titanic and others, we know the ending, and yet it doesn’t make it any less harrowing. There is a genuinely tragic depth to this film. It shows with pitiless clarity how Amy Winehouse was approaching a fate that everyone could see and no one could do anything about.
Rated MA 15plus 8 out of 10
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