Monday, July 27, 2015


And no one could save her

     Amy portrays singer-songwriter-guitarist Amy Winehouse from the age of fifteen until her death.  The media routinely use the word tragedy to refer to something that is actually a disaster such as an airline disaster or a terrorist mass killing.  Tragedy requires a hero or heroine who falls from the heights because of a flaw, usually pride.  Amy Winehouse was a tragic heroine because her extraordinary talent could not save her from those closest to her and from her need for boundaries that were never maintained.  She was a potentially great jazz singer (she acknowledged Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan as influences and Tony Bennett saw both Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald in her), who was flung into an international pop career that was bigger than anything she envisioned or really wanted because of her songs that were sad, edgy, and far more autobiographical than I originally realized.  Neil did understand that at the time (2007) she first became big in the U.S.  

Amy with Husband Blake

     Although she wanted to play in smaller venues, ‘the star-making machinery behind the popular song,’ as Joni Mitchell described it in “A Free Man in Paris,” wasn’t having any of that.  Simultaneously treating her as a commodity and as an artist in desperate need of help, music industry professionals tried to get a grip on her, while media representatives both lionized and ridiculed her.  Although she was both helped and hurt by family members (most significantly her drug addict husband and her exploitative father), her friends kept reaching out to her, but she was sporadic in her dealings with them once she catapulted to fame.  She was revealing both in her lyrics and her interviews, knowing that she was responsible, but she could not use that skill in permanently changing her life for the better.

     It’s a wrenching and suspenseful documentary, though we know how it will turn out.  There’s a continual current of ‘if only . . .’ as her life progresses and as we connect earlier events to later outcomes. Director Asif Kapadia employs a technique that he developed in his documentary Yenna (2010) about the late Brazilian auto racer whereby there is no spoken directorial voiceover and no current talking head interviews looking back to these events.  Instead, all of the visual narrative is found imagery, whether interviews with Winehouse during her life, paparazzi film, home movies, phone videos that are arranged to form a cohesive narrative.  The audio narrative includes interviews with those shown in the earlier pictures and scenes, Winehouse speaking and, more importantly, singing.  If Inside Out is about how joy and pain work together to develop a personality, Amy is about joy and pain working against each other and draining a smart, funny, enormous personality through alcohol and drugs. 

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