“…I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous…I don’t think I could handle it, I’d probably go mad, d’you know what I mean?” - Amy Winehouse
When I woke to the news in 2011 that Amy Winehouse, one of this century’s iconic voices, had died, I was stunned but lamentably unsurprised.
Amy Winehouse was the musical beacon in the dark I’d been searching for. She was the perfect antidote to the manufactured pop music machine that churned out girl-band after boy-band. Her music was a seamless fusion of jazz and hip hop, the lyrics cheeky yet lovelorn. While I’d fallen in love with her music, I was oblivious to the inner torment she was going through.
As she became more famous for her disastrous drunken antics, I thought eventually she (or someone else) would sort her out. Unfortunately there was no one ready to catch her when she fell. Watching Amy go from icon to trainwreck in a matter of years was difficult to witness as a fan.
Directed by Asif Kapadia, Amy is wonderfully pieced together by a collection of home movies, interviews & recorded performances. It’s intertwined with commentary from friends, family and colleagues. It’s an homage to the singer, chronicling her meteoric rise to fame and the catastrophic end of her life.
Keep the tissues on hand for this film though, it’s peppered with especially haunting accounts of her private life from her two best friends, mother and colleagues. I’ll be the first to admit I cried watching the film. Amy exposes the torment and anguish she went through after finding fame and love in the wrong place. What the world thought they knew about her was very different to the truth.
Early on in the film, we meet a youthful and energetic Amy. She’s a young woman whose emotional outlet is her music and she dreams only of toiling her nights away in smoky jazz clubs and entertaining the crowd. A voiceover from Amy early in the film notes that the idea of fame would drive her mad and she couldn’t handle it. As her debut album Frank achieves success in the UK, we witness moments where Amy struggles with her newfound fame and the media commitments that come with it.
At the behest of her record label, she’s pressured to capitalize on the success of Frank however, these orders don’t go down well with her. She seeks solace in alcohol and begins an emotionally torturous relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil which sadly leads her into the world of hard drugs.
We’re told that friends of Amy plead with her to enter rehab to which she agrees only on the proviso her father Mitch consents to it. Sadly for Amy, he declares she’s ok and prefers she fulfil her professional commitments, a decision that Mitch undoubtedly will regret in hindsight.
Back To Black eventually explodes onto the charts and worldwide fame and fortune ensues. Amy reunites with Blake and he introduces her to heroin & crack cocaine.
Again, her friends beg her father and management to send her to rehab. At this point I’m crossing my fingers that they make the right choice for her (even though I know how this ends).
These scenes are tough to watch, it’s beyond me that nobody realised they were doing wrong by Amy, it was like she’d lost her identity as a human being and was now just a product from which to exhaust as much supply as possible for a cash reward. Amy’s voice had become her curse.
Tragically on July 23rd 2011, Winehouse is pronounced dead in her Camden flat.
Hearing about her death made my heart sink. The entire day I kept thinking how sad it was that I’ll never hear her voice again, that a huge void was now left in music which couldn’t be filled. I’d known a little of her private life from what i could glean from the internet and I’d often wondered why no-one seemed to take proper care of her.
Amy is a sobering tale of how fame and financial success can hypnotise the most well meaning of people and destroy even the strongest of souls. Amy is truly a masterpiece for all Amy Winehouse fans.