' I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.'


Film review: AMY - a powerful mosaic of the unforgettable icon from the perspectives of those that knew her

After three years in the making, the wait is almost over for fans of the inimitable music icon, Amy Winehouse, as the much talked about new docufilm of her life hits screens this Friday.

Created by the team that brought us the multiple award-winning 2011 film, Senna, this new insight rejects the more more common “talking heads” format. Using archival footage almost exclusively, including an abundance of unseen home video recordings, Amy presents new audio recordings of interviews with the starlet's friends, family and colleagues, and also features fascinating glimpses of her sing notes, and previously unreleased tracks. What this mesmerising film reveals to us is the woman behind the name and beyond the tabloids.

Last night, a live screening of the film’s London gala premiere was aired at over 300 cinemas across the UK, along with a Q&A session featuring Director, Asif Kapadia, the film’s Producer, James Gay-Rees, and Nick Shymanksy, Amy’s first manager and close friend.

“When they think of Amy, a lot of people only seem to think of her in that latter period,” Kapadia tells us before the film begins, “and I wanted to readdress that. […] I wanted a positive image to come up, a young, healthy, beautiful image, not a negative one; a film that shows the real Amy - someone that was really funny, intelligent, amazing, a brilliant writer, a brilliant singer.”

Yet, Amy’s release has not been without opposition from within. Although the artist’s father, Mitch Winehouse, was initially keen for Kapadia to direct the film after seeing his previous work, he was unhappy with the final cut and threatened legal action unless further editing took place. Although some alterations were made, Mitch remains angered with the portrayal, believing it makes him out to be an uncaring father and a villain: “there’s too much at stake. There’s Amy’s reputation. There’s my reputation”, he said in an interview recently.

Shortly after Amy’s death, her father set up the Amy Winehouse Foundation, an organisation which works to help prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on young people.  Mitch describes the film as being “misleading and contains some basic untruths”, airing concerns that “if this hurts the Foundation, which it potentially could do, you’re talking about damaging thousands of kids.” However, it appears that what this film does in fact give us is an unflinching look at the harrowing consequences of Amy’s addictions and the traumatic effect on those close to her. In stark contrast to her father’s opinion, it is clear Kapadia’s film instead highlights these issues and so can only serve to aid the foundation’s cause.

As the director admits, he is not associated with the music industry nor had ever met anyone linked to her, so had almost no knowledge of Amy as a person whatsoever before approaching the film, doing so without any kind of prejudice or agenda.  He at first gained the trust of her close friend, Nicky Shymanksy, who then put him in touch with her other friends and associates, and slowly, over the course of three years, he interviewed around one hundred people to try and fit together her story like a puzzle, build her timeline, and get a complete picture of Amy: “It’s a mosaic, it’s never perfect, “says Kapadia, “it’s fragments, you’ve got memories, you’ve got little pieces here and there and you’ve got to play with them as much as you can to try and plug holes.” With this in mind, surely this film then is an arguably rare example of artistic impartiality that gives us the most truthful, balanced portrait of Amy yet, in all possible lights?

Sore spots, it seems, have only developed where the archival content that has arisen isn’t always kind to those involved. Mitch admits he began an affair with another woman when Amy was just a little over a year old which carried on in secret for eight years before her parents finally divorced, affecting her incredibly deeply.  So, when we hear audio of Amy herself describing how her father was never there for the “important bits” when she was growing up, it goes to reason that what Mitch is more likely fearful of is a brutally honest depiction of himself over which he has no control and which doesn’t gloss over any of his influences on Amy’s life, both good or bad.  

Of course, Amy couldn’t escape documenting the turbulent relationship with ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, one of the more notorious aspects of the troubled artist’s life. It was clear that Amy was madly in love with bad boy Fielder-Civil, but it becomes quickly clear that her emotional overreliance on him was dangerous, and their marriage was continually intense, volatile and toxic.  Her introduction to crack cocaine and heroin by her husband, combined with ongoing bulimia issues and her later alcohol abuse, was to send her into a destructive downward spiral and cause the irreparable health problems which ultimately lead to her death.

Of course, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the talented star attracted the attentions of the press, and paparazzi swarmed about her house day and night, adding to the stress and pressure of her everyday life. But it was never fame that Amy wanted; the only thing she craved was to make music. The night before she died, Amy’s bodyguard, Andrew Morris, recalls how she was watching videos of her performances with him. “’Boy, I can really sing!’ she said. “But do you know what? I’d hand all of it back right now, just to be able to walk down the street again.”
However, the film doesn’t necessarily lay the guilt for Amy’s death on any single individual. Instead, it honestly presents the various failures, small and large, of a number of individuals - amongst them the singer herself - to say enough is enough and put Amy first. 

Nevertheless, asked during the live Q&A if he is of the belief that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves, Shymanksy disagrees, saying “You can try.” “But everyone did try, didn’t they”, says the interviewer, to which he insinuatingly replies, “well, I don’t know about that. I think there’re levels of statements you make, positions you take. You can’t say to someone ‘I don’t believe you should be doing that, but I’m going to go along with you while you do it.’” It’s quite obvious he is referring to what he sees as the often complicit attitude of Amy’s father in regards to her destructive behaviour, as well as his seemingly skewed paternal priorities, alluded to by many of those close to Amy in the film including her oldest and closest friends, when it came to putting his daughter’s wellbeing before her musical career.

Amy loved her father deeply, and constantly sought affirmation from him. It does appear that, in many ways, he rejected numerous vital opportunities to intervene which could have, to some degree, helped save Amy’s life further down the line. One striking example is even painfully immortalised in her hit song, “Rehab”: “I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine - they tried to make me go to rehab and I said ‘no, no, no.’” When concerned friends suggested rehab after finding her in a drug-fuelled haze amid squalid living conditions following her first devastating break up with Blake, her father admits in an interview that he told her there was no need. Naturally then, she chose to decline the help she desperately needed.

Had she decided differently, the album “Back to Black” may well never have come into existence, but it’s also possible Amy could have been prevented from travelling any further down the dark path she was unwittingly on, nipping her addiction issues in the bud and saving her life. That the single representing her fatal decision also had a part to play in leading her to international fame (as well as infamy) and eventually to her premature death is a horrible irony.

Amy’s lyrics themselves are of such significance to her story that Kapadia makes the bold decision to present them to us visually on screen at several points, since they alone can best express her perspectives, her loves, and her struggles, without external prejudice. Although there was no definitive expert on Amy to whom the director could talk, the most revealing insights to what was going on in Amy’s mind at different stages of her life, as one observant audience member at the Q&A session noted, lay unquestionably in her songs. “Her lyrics are the map”, Kapadia remarks. 
Amy gives us the full picture that was always missing, and is a deeply moving and powerful work of cinema. We see the warm, intelligent, outspoken girl grow and enter into womanhood, with all her faults and strengths in tow, as she begins the iconic career which was our blessing and, perhaps, her curse.  An immense talent, charismatic, passionate and wise beyond her years, Amy Winehouse is quite simply the voice that affected a generation.

Amy is released nationwide on the 3rd July.

Images (in order) from Wikipedia, unkown source, decorandstyle.co.uk, topnew,in, and The Guardian

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