Sunday, November 08, 2015
Thoughts on 'Amy'
Half way through a tedious and chilly (why are plane cabins so cold? is it a guilt trip to use the provided blanket?) flight back to the UK last night after a deliciously relaxing stay in the Maldives, I watched the (relatively) new documentary about the legendary Amy Winehouse: I was moved. The footage behind films like this is something that always hits me as incredible; the home videos made by friends pre-fame are carefree and upbeat, yet poignantly nostalgic in the aftermath of her downward spiral. The fact that an answerphone message, where Amy desperately tells her producer or maybe manager, how 'I will love you until the day my heart fails and I fall down dead in the road' was saved after ten years astounds me - I can imagine how easily accessible footage from the Terry Richardson shoot and paparazzi hounding images are to find but the deeper archive work, done by Asif Kapadia and his team is beyond impressive. Kapadia also deserves a round of applause for the smooth and beautifully flowing manner in which he has presented the ups and downs of this unconventional heroine's life. The chronological unravelling told by a wide and varied collection of her friends, family and professional team is continually overlain with photos or muted videos of Amy in keeping with the message being delivered at the time: devoted to her husband, drugged out of her mind, the normal girl who just wanted to be left alone.
Having also been similarly impressed by the recent Kurt Cobain rock doc 'Montage of Heck' I drew many parallels between the two stars, besides the sad club they share at 'Forever 27' and their ravenous addictions. What I felt was primarily conveyed about both stars was the intensity of their creativity and the fine line between productive eccentricity that could be channelled into big-money, big-hit songs and albums and the desire to extend that colourful mind out of the mundane and into a drug induced reality that crippled them inside and out. I found it especially moving when the footage of the 2007 Grammys was shown when Amy won 'Record of the Year' with 'Rehab,' and she takes her friend off stage and says 'this is so boring without drugs.' It's a desperately poignant moment for the audience as they realise that despite her success she's too far gone at this point to live happily with life and achievement to bring her up, instead of heroine. Up on stage, the camera also pans around the other contestants and it is strange to see celebrities like Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z etc. looking so unbelievably fake in comparison to Winehouse - their airbrushed make up and sleek outfits do not compare with the wild eyed and styled winner, who appears much more relatable as a girl of the people, slapping on heavy makeup and a mini skirt to go out and have a good time in. Another connection between Winehouse and Cobain was their unhinged childhoods that were tainted with sadness and divorce, breaking up family bonds and leaving them both slightly lost, vulnerable and keen to make their own way in life at a young age; this intention led them both to dingy, druggy flats that scream bleakness and in need of some love.
When a person's life is put into another's hands to be exposed and presented to a paying audience, it is bound to be twisted and moulded into a particular perspective. In this respect I was impressed with Kapadia's dedication to her nearest and dearest, conducting over a hundred interviews and collecting tens of thousands of hours of stories and opinions on the star of the show. However, I was aware of some very deliberate editing of Amy's life in relation to the men in it; Blake Fielder, Amy's ex-husband is the only love interest that is explored throughout, documenting his own drug habits and arrest which led to a year of imprisonment. Kapadia skips over any specific flings and barely touches on the reason Fielder and Winehouse divorce, preferring to focus on her reliance on drinking in her retreat to St Lucia than the lover Josh Bowman who accompanied her there. Pete Doherty, who has been cited for many years as a massive influencer in Amy's life is barely mentioned, with a short clip of him shown in parallel with reports of how bands like Babyshambles were powerful at the same time as her. On reflection, I wonder whether Doherty's PR had any influence on his lack of involvement in the film now he is mending his public image upon return from Thailand and posing as a cleaned-up version of his former self. No wonder Mitch Winehouse also got so frustrated at seeing the final outcome of 'Amy' as after considerable cooperation and interviews with the documenters, he was presented as almost villainous, pushing Amy into tours and shows that she just didn't care about and wasn't stable enough to perform. When asked at the start of the film, in her early career, how she would cope with fame, she said: 'I don't think I'm gonna be at all famous. I don't think I could handle it. I'd probably go mad.' A woman who's lyrics have been praised as mature and insightful beyond her years proved that she knew herself down to a tee. She just wanted to push the boundaries.