We knew Amy Winehouse, musical artist; we knew Amy Winehouse, tabloid fixation; now, we have the immense pleasure of knowing Amy Winehouse — incredibly talented, incredibly troubled young woman.
“Amy” offers an unfettered look into the newest member of the “27 Club.” It features footage of Winehouse’s private life and interviews of friends, family and coworkers interspersed with extraordinary musical montages in which Winehouse’s lyrics float across the screen — visually achieving the hauntedness which always saturated her sound. “Amy” achieves the single aspect that can make or break a documentary: balance. Director Asif Kapadia masterfully balances Winehouse’s life: the public, the private, the professional and the personal.
Beneath the facade of addiction, Winehouse was sweet. She ducks behind a pillow as her friend attempts to record her in the back seat of a car. Despite her seemingly careless demeanor at performances (during some of which she was booed off the stage), she cared — maybe too much — about her musical craft. She frustrates herself during a recording session with Tony Bennett, revealing her true youth and insecurity. These touching moments reveal the real Amy.
Possibly even more important than the subject herself, the film moves viewers into seeing the toxicity of modern society through the experience of “Amy.” It subtly criticizes. It showcases how it became OK to joke about her eating disorders and drug addiction. One of the most poignant moments occurs at the 2005 Grammy Nomination announcements where George Lopez announces Amy’s nomination for Record of the Year, after which he tells the audience to wake her up to let her know.
Furthermore, it subtly touches on greed. The objectivity of the film upset Winehouse’s father, Mitch, as he believes he was painted to be a villain. However, “painted” is not fitting. “Woven” expresses the manner in which a viewer’s feelings toward Mitch Winehouse progress. The lyric “I ain’t got the time / and if my daddy thinks I’m fine” fails to hold any of the lightness the chord progressions once presented. Now, after two hours of witnessing Winehouse’s struggle and four years after her death, it’s hard not to ask the obvious question: Why did you think she was fine? Maybe it was pride. Maybe he truly believed she was “fine.” Maybe his book deal, television show and constant push for a never-to-be third album tell a different story.
Ultimately, “Amy” is heart-breaking. Despite containing a plethora of chill-inducing and heart-wrenching moments, one scene manages to encapsulate the film. Amy Winehouse has just won Best New Artist and she accepts her award from the UK (she failed a drug test, thus rejecting her visa application to attend the awards). Immediately after Tony Bennett announces her name, she looks up in awe — a moment so beautiful and pure it sends chills up your spine. Then, a friend recounts Amy stating later that night, “This isn’t fun without drugs.”
“Amy” isn’t an easy watch by any means, but it is certainly rewarding. In my mind, a documentary is meant to expose what hasn’t been known. I now know Amy Winehouse … and miss her dearly.