Maria Tedeschi watched the tragically muted Amy Winehouse speak again in the documentary Amy and while Winehouse remains enigmatic, her talent lives on.
Amy Winehouse. What can anyone say? Everyone knows who she is, everyone has an opinion about her. Hers is a tale we’ve all heard before: a wickedly talented, desperate soul who was gone before her time.
Why is it the greater the talent, the harder the fall?
No-one can deny that Amy Winehouse managed to cut through an overloaded industry. She made everyone stand up and pay attention.
But who was this person that we all seemed to “know”?
In the documentary titled Amy, director Asif Kapadia conducted hundreds of interviews with Amy’s oldest and closest family and friends to give us some insight. Kapadia adopts a style where no talking heads appear on screen; we only hear voiceover on top of archival footage – some of it personal videos and some of it from the media. It’s a fascinating technique because you are never distracted from the sole focus – Amy.
By God, did she know how to charm an audience. Even with the restrictions of a camera lens, she engages you with her big eyes and captivates you with her splendid voice.
Everyone watches documentaries like Amy to help make sense of what happened.
Is there a point where it all went haywire? Was there a moment where she could have been pulled back from the edge?
This documentary does highlight some pivotal moments in Amy’s life. Her parents’ divorce when she was 9, an eating disorder and depression during her teenage years, her grandmother dying while recording Back to Black, her father’s overtly exploitative nature and her leech of a husband.
Let’s not forget the paparazzi, who were an absolutely brutal bunch. While you can’t blame them for her death, it doesn’t take a genius to realise the incessant media attention certainly didn’t help her attempts to recover.
However, the one moment when you realise Amy’s fate is sealed is on the night she won five Grammy Awards. While everyone celebrated around her, Amy’s best friend confessed that Amy stated, “…this is so boring without drugs.”
How do you bring somebody back from that?
Can you bring somebody back from that?
On more than one occasion, Amy declared that “she’d go mad” if she got famous. “All that I’m good for is making tunes, so leave me alone and I’ll do it. I will do the music, I just need time to do the music.”
After her 2006 album Back to Black, there was no more music. The title itself proved bitterly prophetic. Her music was the one thing Amy credited with helping her through her depression in her teenage years.
Having watched this film, I don’t get the sense that I know Amy Winehouse any better as she’s a woman with many sides, but it was nice to see her again. I did get the sense though that Amy was always performing or putting on a show for the camera, even in those personal home movie moments.
Ironically, the times when Amy didn’t seem to be performing was when she was singing. Right there in that moment is truth, which is why it resonates with so many. It’s hard to ignore truth when you hear it.
Even though we all know what’s coming, we know that her sobriety (or lack thereof) was a source of interest (read: entertainment) for everyone. We know how her story ends, the inevitable demise, but it was still hard to watch the bag with Amy’s body being carried out of her Camden home without the feeling of defeat kicking in again. What an absolute mess.
It’s just so sad; not only because the world lost a great talent, but on a baser humanist level, it is a breathing epitaph.
It’s only right that Amy’s music be held in the highest regard. I could sit here and break down what makes Amy Winehouse’s music great, but I don’t need to; you can just hear it.
Many female artists who have come after her (Adele, Duffy, Lady Gaga) have all paid tribute to her truly unique sound. Amy wore her heart on her sleeve and often said she found solace in her music but, in the end, she never found her way back to it.
One of Amy’s idols, Tony Bennett, said it best. “Life teaches you really how to live it, if you live long enough.”