Amy Winehouse Documentary Review

21 Sep


Music Court contributor Beth Kelly is back with a great review of “Amy,” the Amy Winehouse Documentary

Even in death, UK singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse remains an iconic figure in pop culture. Her neo-soul triumph Back to Black won her international fame and fortune – but only part of her renown can really be attributed to her raw talent and vocal skill. Winehouse struggled with addiction, alcoholism, and bulimia for years, and withered under the harsh glare of the spotlight. In the years preceding her death, the young star’s face was often splashed across the cover of tabloids all too eager to document her affinity for drinking and drugging. When she succumbed to alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, few could admit surprise. But who was Winehouse, really? Underneath the beehive and the cat eye makeup, outside the haze of heroin and cocaine, how did the world let such a talented young woman sabotage herself? A new documentary hopes to find out.

As years pass, Winehouse’s devoted fans have seen that she will never truly disappear from the pantheon of musical greats. She’s earned her place among other special musicians we have lost too soon, such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, all of whom died at the young age of 27. Like these stars, a large part of Amy’s downfall was attributed to her inability to “handle” her personal problems while simultaneously churning out successful singles. Documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia – who’d previously directed a feature on Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna – became attached to the idea of a film which would use unseen footage of Winehouse and focus on her life before she made it big.

The documentary, titled Amy, is a welcome addition to the cache of “Rockumentary” films on similarly tortured stars. It’s received positive comparisons to the acclaimed Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck, which also attempted to show its subject as he “really” was – behind the music and mayhem. Rather than focus on the parts of Winehouse’s life that gave her the most grief (her addiction, her tumultuous marriage), audiences get to see Winehouse’s childhood and early successes. Though her life did end tragically and her death is discussed, in the film we come to understand her passing from the point of view of lifelong friends and beloved family members, not swarms of paparazzi and gossip bloggers.

Since Amy‘s release earlier this summer, the film was met with almost instantaneous acclaim. Critics have praised the way in which this movie humanizes its star – we sympathize with her and relate to the tragedy of a life taken too soon. However, certain members of Winehouse’s family, especially her father Mitch, have criticized the accuracy of the film. Mitch claims he’s been represented as a villain and would like to produce a future documentary about his daughter that more accurately portrays her life. The family does concede that the film includes beautiful videos and photographs of Winehouse, celebrating the parts they loved most about her.

Mere weeks after its release, Amy already sits comfortably in the canon of classic rock music documentaries. It is one of the highest-grossing documentaries ever at the U.K. box office, surpassed only by Fahrenheit 9/11, and has become Britain’s highest-grossing documentary of all time. Amy is widely distributed thanks to a collaborated effort between A24 and DirecTV and is widely available on streaming platforms. It is slated for DVD release in October 2015.

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