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Film Review: Amy

Film Review: Amy

Monday 3rd August, 2015 1:49PM

Watching Amy is an extraordinary experience. In the space of an hour-and-a-half you witness the contrast and immediacy of seeing a vibrant, strong ”gobby” woman, being destroyed by addiction, bulimia, fame, herself and others. The journey leaves you pretty shaken when the credits come up over the contemplative acoustic BBC Radio1 version of ‘Valerie’ - not a song she penned, but a song about friendship and longing. The song choice is made doubly poignant as much of the film is composed of footage shot by her oldest friends, family and colleagues. Many of whom we hear from directly, the pain and guilt of losing her still present in their voices.

The film intersperses Winehouse’s music with a vast array of very personal early footage and interviews with those closest to her, as well as great observations from well respected (mostly American) musicians and producers including Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Tony Bennett, ?uestlove and Mark Ronson. You get a real sense of what people around her described as a funny, force of nature, not the broken down victim most people think of her as now.

Despite her early inroads in the jazz scene, for many people their first introduction to Winehouse’s music is ‘Rehab’, one of the more disturbing hit songs to feature on the charts. Whether you enjoy the raw unflinching honesty of the lyrics or are revolted by the almost drug idolatry, the song holds even more significance once you understand the story behind it. Director Asif Kapadia chose to display the lyrics on screen as Winehouse sings them, honouring not only her work but revealing the brutal honesty and beauty of her songs. It’s certainly the mark of great artists to expose even the most uncomfortable ugly side of themselves.

In this context, the jokes made about her by many late night talk hosts and comedians hit a dull painful note. There is a laddish quality in the way male musicians like Gram Parsons, Kurt Cobain, Keith Richards and even Pete Dougherty are talked about. Their work more often idealised, but women like Winehouse tend to be seen as tragic and laughable.

The documentary explores Amy’s exploitation by the media and paparazzi ("cheer up Amy!" one pap jeers while she's fighting through a feeding frenzy of cameras); her (later) manager keeping her on tour when she clearly shouldn't have been; her husband and father (who both had TV vehicles leveraged off her fame) and chose to enable her addictions; and comedians making her the butt of the joke.

Russell Brand (whatever you may think of him) said about the documentary: “The system that surrounds celebrity and fame is a vampiric cannibalising system that wants its heroes and heroines dead, so it can devour our corpses in public for entertainment”. But one has to ask, is this film doing the same thing? If nothing else it is extremely well-crafted piece of documentary making and you will take away a deeper understanding of Winehouse's talent as a lyricist, not just as a great voice. It gives a more complete view of Amy, not only as a person but as an artist, making it impossible to hear Back To Black particularly, the same way again.

Review by Tina Turntables

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