Director: Asif Kapadia
In 2006 Amy Winehouse released her second album Back to Black. Her first outing, Frank, was a well received album in her native UK, both critically and commercially, but had failed to break through elsewhere. Nobody could have expected the type of success that her second outing would receive. With the support of lead single “Rehab“, Winehouse became one of the most recognizable artists in the world. Her artistry and voice were acclaimed nearly universally all resulting in multiple platinum certifications and 5 Grammy awards. It could also be argued that Winehouse opened up doors for other artists with jazz flares and retro sounds – if it weren’t for her success then artists like Adele, Duffy, Sharon Jones, Jully Black, Sam Smith, and countless others may never have had the opportunity to make their own marks on the music industry. Even artists like Lady Gaga and Jessie J have stated in interviews how much an influence Winehouse had on them. Over the course of two albums, and one smash in particular, the young singer had changed the world of music.
Along with the fame came the scrutiny. Winehouse suffered from an eating disorder, she had a drinking problem, and was a drug addict. The men in her life, her father and her husband, were dysfunctional relationships that played out publicly. The media made a target out of the singer and paparazzi hounded her everywhere she went. Winehouse became a notorious person, known for her distressing behavior and erratic ways – her beautiful and soulful voice took a backseat to her numerous antics, which began affecting her career negatively. Then in July of 2011, at the age of 27, Winehouse’s life came to a sad end.
Four years after her tragic death a new documentary arrives titled, simply, Amy. The film, directed by Asif Kapadia (Senna) chronicles Winehouse’s humble beginnings, her astronomical rise to fame, and her ultimate undoing. The film paints Winehouse as a young woman ill at ease with fame who couldn’t cope with the demands being made of her, ultimately choosing to destroy herself rather than keep going. The film is sympathetic towards the singer, portraying her as a victim of the music industry and the men in her life, all the while showing massive respect for her singing and talent.
The issue is that the film amounts to mostly a longer version of a Behind the Music episode. As talented as she was and as heartbreaking as her addictions were, Winehouse in the end recorded a great album and disintegrated under the pressure. She wasn’t a very powerful figure and her career didn’t spend long enough to warrant an entire film being made of her. I was one of her many early admirers, I bought her album the day it came out, I loved and knew every word to each of her songs. I was a fan. Her death was sad and made all of us who loved her music wonder what she would have been capable of had she not succumbed to the pressure. However, the film doesn’t know what to do with her story beyond showing this tragic fall from grace. It’s a well made final love song to such a tragic figure, it just doesn’t know what to do with her story other than serve as a warning of the pratfalls of fame and the negative effects it can have on people ill suited to the scrutiny that success brings with it.