By Gary Murray
Starring Amy Winehouse
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Running time 128 min
MPAA Rating Not Rated but R for language
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
I remember the moment Amy Winehouse won The Best Song Grammy along with her other five awards. It was the last time I ever watched the awards show. I was a big fan of the song “Rehab” and thought the song had a great 1960s girl group sound but with a modern edge. I wanted to see Miss Winehouse perform it live and with a big brass band. It is not something one sees on the modern Grammy stage. Most of the music is pre-programmed and soulless.
That night she did not disappoint. With her wild upturned hair and slight frame, Amy was like an animated lollipop. But it was those eyes, those soulful sad eyes that would draw the audience into her melancholy world. In the new documentary, film-maker Asif Kapadia explores the short and heartbreaking life of Amy Winehouse.
The story is of the rise of Amy Winehouse from an obscure English jazz maven to one of the biggest starts of a year and her downfall into drugs and alcohol. We are told the story through her family and friends and with the use of many home videos and pictures. There is much discussion about Frank her first LP and her leaching boyfriend and super leaching father.
The producers tell the story using the lyrics of the songs and showing them in her real life. Her musical struggles are also her real life struggles. Amy admits that even at an early age, all she wanted was her own flat where she could write and smoke weed. It was a life destined to explode.
The producers show most of the night she won her Grammy awards. The thing that made her so ecstatic was watching Tony Bennett on stage announcing the award. It was almost as if just having him read her name was a victory enough. But, went Tony announced her name, the London audience erupted and the young woman was genuinely shocked. It became the biggest moment of her career and the justification for years of work and struggle. She considered what she did as jazz performer in a pop world as doubly important.
We eventually find that by the time Amy has been singing “Rehab” she is way beyond the song and almost beyond help. Like Janis Joplin decades before, Amy was never made to survive these times, he spirit too frail for the fountain of emotions that poured from her pen and mouth. It was almost a foregone conclusion that she would be single comet in night sky, shining bright and fading too fast.
Amy died in 2011 at the age of 27. When she died, Amy was up to write the theme for the new James Bond film, the one that got Adele an Oscar. She was also to record more songs with her idol Tony Bennett. Tony eventually recorded with Lady Gaga in a million selling recording that generated much crossover interest. The more we learn of the plans of Amy Winehouse, the sadder her untimely passing becomes.
The film is produced by my new favorite independent company A24. They are the group behind Ex Machina. This is another triumph for the group, an inspired work on a subject that few know much about. Amy is a much see film that it ultimately a sad experience. Everyone knows how it will end but still one wants to just grab at the screen and save this young woman from her downfall and eventually from herself.