I was with my mum in a ‘beads and craft’ store in Los Angeles when I found out Amy Winehouse had died.
Mum and I had enrolled in a jewelry making class (the unfriend button is just to your right) and were choosing our materials. I remember picking through a container of rose quartz for a pendant when I heard the woman behind the counter gasp as she read something on her phone and then exclaim, ‘What a waste!’ while shaking her head. When she repeated the news, I felt like the wind had been knocked from my sails. Not because I knew her, and not because I wanted to jump on the sensationalist bandwagon of hashtags and memoriam Instagram posts, but because I was genuinely sad. She was a rare talent who cared more about how her music sounded than about being famous. And yet it was that very thing that ended up killing her. Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, Amy, is a two-hour reminder of that.
Amy is also really fucking hard to watch. Not because it sucks, but because you’re literally watching a young and beautiful girl die right in front of your eyes. The entire film is comprised of archival footage, supplied by Amy’s childhood friend and first manager, Nick Shymansky, along with media footage and photographic stills from numerous sources. Excerpts of interviews with her close friends, along with Amy’s second manager, Raye Cosbert, and ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, provide a loose narration to the film, spliced throughout with audio of Amy’s hair-raising vocal performances. There’s footage of Winehouse being a sassy, charismatic teenager, and then there’s footage of Amy walking through the streets high on heroin, with no charisma or light left in her at all. It tells a tale old as hell: a bright, talented young girl struggling with depression and bulimia is blessed with an incredible gift, but is unprepared for the perils of fame that come with it. The fact that she had a pimp for a father who treated her as his meal ticket probably didn’t help much either.
Too harsh? Maybe. Apparently Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, has already dubbed the film ‘a disgrace’ due to how he was portrayed, and plans to tell his side of the story in a separate documentary. But video footage don’t lie, Mitchy Poo. Countless times throughout the film, you watch as Amy falls further and further into the oblivion of drug and alcohol addiction, pleading with everyone in her circle to cancel her upcoming European tour. She needs help, and yet the only ones that can help her turn a blind eye. Get treatment once the tour is over, darling. There’s simply too much money to be made. Not only do you watch helplessly as an increasingly frail Winehouse is paraded in front of a bewildered audience in Belgrade, you then discover that Amy’s dad has brought a film crew with him to St Lucia to document Amy as she recovers. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t.
Throughout the film, excerpts from interviews with Amy prove not only poignant, but also really haunting and ironic. When discussing her depression, she explains at first she didn’t really know what it was, and thought it was just ‘a musician thing.’ Ultimately, she said she felt blessed, because at the end of the day she could ‘just pick up a guitar and feel better.’ The film goes on to document her relationship with ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who by his own admission, introduced her to drugs early in their relationship. Amy had often said she wanted to ‘be on the same level’ as him when he was high. Becoming addicted to heroin and then attempting to get clean is surely hard enough as it is, but having to do it as a celebrity in the public eye is another beast altogether. A really ugly, blood hungry beast. Seeing the onslaught of camera flashes that filled the night sky every time Amy attempted to leave her house, arms scratched and skin pocked, makes you want to crawl in a hole and hope to find peace in it’s dark. And ultimately, that’s what Amy chose to do. In perhaps the most chilling admission of all, Amy remarks in an interview that her fame was not worth all the sorrow that it had brought, saying, ‘If I could give it back, I would.’ I guess she found a way to.
Go and see this film. It will make you feel angry, it will make you feel sad, and it will make you miss Amy.