Amy is a fine documentary by the BAFTA award-winning filmmaker, Asif Kapadia (Senna, The Warrior), chronicling the underbelly of fame in the contemporary world for those with unfillable needs and fragile constitutions. It is alternately sad, funny, entertaining, and ironic; sad and ironic in that from the time when she was very young, she admonished her mother to be stronger with her, which then became a theme in her songs, sometimes directed to a specific person, but also to the larger community around her. I was reminded of the lack of restraint seen in the paparazzi and even the public chasing after her like crazy people. Those responsible for her “management” as an artist—including her own father—were apparently oblivious to her needs, especially toward the end. Not that Amy Winehouse would be an easy person to manage!
Amy the person exemplifies the “artistic personality” with ambivalent relationships, mood swings, a compulsion to write and sing, and inconsistency amidst alcohol and drug abuse. The film is chock full of pictures from her real life, one showing her having a tantrum as a preschooler, and her mother saying helplessly, “When Amy makes up her mind…” But the old pictures (a big plus for this documentary) are also great in showing her having good times, being witty onstage and off, speaking insightful thoughts about herself and others, and of course singing in her jazzy voice of soul resembling the likes of Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. We’re treated to a song with her and Tony Bennett during the film.
One aspect of Winehouse’s make-up which is a bit surprising—particularly if one did not know about her earlier—is her modesty about her voice and an unassuming nature when she is feeling confident. She had to be pushed into singing and writing songs by her friend Nick Shymansky, who stood by her for as long as he felt he could.
Two of the most destructive influences on Amy were her father (who essentially abandoned the family when Amy was young and had no qualms about exploiting her when she became famous) and a man she was married to only briefly, Blake Fielder-Civil, who introduced her to crack and heroine. She was completely infatuated by both men. Her songs themselves tell us a lot about Amy because she notes that her songs are mostly about herself or related to her (examples: “Stronger than Me”, “Rehab”, “Love is a Losing Game”, “What is it about Men”). Her tragic end came in 2011 when she died of alcohol poisoning. Many mourn our loss of her as someone highly significant for the musical genres of jazz and soul.
No one strong enough to save her.