In our countdown to The Oscars, Kate Wyver discusses the heartfelt documentary on the life and troubles of the legendary Amy Winehouse.
‘Oh it’s a bit upsetting at the end isn’t it?’
Amy says this at the end of a recording of one of her most famous songs, Back to Black. Her unique voice and heartfelt lyrics intertwine through this powerful, unbiased view of an ordinary girl’s extraordinary life as scattered bits of footage and honest interviews are beautifully woven together.
Celebrity is an alien concept for most of us. It’s hard to imagine just how different public and private lives are, how blinding it is to be followed by paparazzi and how your self-image is changed without your permission. Amy says from the start that she doesn’t want to be famous, ‘I’m not a girl who is trying to be a star. I’m just a girl who sings.’ But fame is forced upon her. In Amy we see her transformation from a troubled teen to someone who lives for her music. We then watch as her life is taken over by photographers and fans, and we see the pressure build up around and against her.
Her attempts to keep up with his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle push her over the edge.
Asif Kapida’s documentary about the singer asks all the questions you weren’t quite brave enough to ask. The raw honesty in this film is very sobering. It shows us how Amy had a tough life, starting to take drugs before she was even a teenager, resulting from her father having had an affair and being almost absent from her life from a very young age. We see how harmful her relationships are, particularly with future husband Blake Fielder-Civil who introduces her to heroin and tells her that ‘life is short’. Her attempts to keep up with his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle push her over the edge.
We get a glimpse into Amy’s father’s neglect, and feel a ripple of anger as he turns up for the awards ceremonies with his arm around her, but notice his absence at her overdoses and his indifference to her bulimia. You can’t help but think that the person who was hurt most of all is her old manager and friend Nick. He’s the one who begs her dad to take her to rehab, ‘But if my daddy thinks I’m fine…’ Nick is the good influence, but he is the one who gets pushed away when she continues with her more rebellious lifestyle.
The real tragedy is that at the very end she appears to be getting better.
Amy makes you think differently about both her music and her personality. Just as the use of her first name rather than the full name on the album covers, Amy humanises the singer. It does not glorify or damn her. With her cat eyeliner off, her beauty spot not yet drawn on, her hair down from the beehive and wearing casual comfy clothes, laughing at the camera and talking about her hopes and dreams, she looks ordinary, just like an old friend. The real tragedy is that at the very end she appears to be getting better. She doesn’t die because of an overdose but because of all the damage the accumulation of drugs and alcohol had done to her. The real sadness is in the unknown, what could have been.
It’s a bit upsetting at the end, isn’t it?
Director: Asif Kapida
Nominations: Best Documentary
Why You Should Watch It:
To gain a better understanding of the person behind the persona. We’ll never get a chance to listen to new music by Amy Winehouse, or listen to new interviews, or see new photos in the newspapers. So we have to piece her together from the bits of her life she wrote down in poems, recorded in studios and showed off in home videos. Watching this documentary will change your opinion not just of Amy, but of singers and of the cult of celebrity.
What it’s missing:
This documentary could not be more delicately put together. The only thing it doesn’t tell us, that I desperately want to know, is what happened to Nick and whether she ever fixed their friendship. He seemed too good to throw away.
The Worldly Rating: ****