By Gregory Crofton
Often emaciated because she had bulimia and a drug and alcohol addiction, Amy Winehouse’s life ended after 27 years. Her heart couldn’t take any more alcohol and she didn’t wake up one morning.
She had so much talent, so much intelligence, so much beauty and eventually got so much attention. One of many things that led to Winehouse’s death was the relentless attention from tabloid photographers. The flashes and sound of the shutters were so intense when she left her home, it was as if she were being physically attacked. AMY, directed by Asif Kapadia, who also directed the fantastic SENNA (2010), feels to me like one final pop from a loud and bright flash.
So despite the fact that AMY is a powerful film, it feels dirty. It is certainly crafted well, and it is slick considering it’s almost entirely based on what are essentially home movies. Unlike a doc on an older singer like Janis Joplin, where clips of the artist are difficult to find because fewer of them were shot, Amy died young and lived in an era where her friends and family recorded many moments of her life on video. So the footage was there, once it was found, for Kapadia to piece together whether Amy wanted him to or not.
Yes, I do think it was too soon to make this film. Let her rest longer before we go back in and pick apart her life. According to media reports, Universal Music UK and family (likely her belligerent father) wanted the documentary made as early as 2012. Winehouse died in 2011. Many film critics sidestep the “too soon” question by writing that at least the project landed in the hands of a talented filmmaker, one who would report the true story. But really this film is a two-hour National Enquirer piece, albeit with much better analysis of her musical development than that magazine would have accomplished.
That is what shines most in this doc. How Winehouse comes into her own, working hard to polish her smart lyrics and being a diligent student of the Jazz greats, one of them being Tony Bennett, with whom she ends up working. With this doc poised to take home the Oscar come February, you’ll be tempted to see it. It may leave you with a real appreciation of Winehouse’s music, but also feeling slightly dirty for not giving this young woman a rest.