Went to see Asif Kapadia’s documentary film “Amy” at the Watershed last week (Kapadia also directed the impressive “Senna” film). Obviously, like with Senna, everyone knows how the story ends… but it was fascinating to see the impressive way archive images, home movies, concert videos, news footage and clips (together with interviews with the key people in Amy Winehouse’s life) had been stitched together. She died from alcohol poisoning in July 2011, aged just 27. She was an immense musical talent with a rich jazz voice to match her idols Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan (not to mention her song-writing abilities)… but with a self-destruct button.The film showed the media in a pretty poor light (well, at least the tabloid press and swarms of paparazzi photographers – it felt very much like Princess Diana all over again). As Winehouse’s fame grew and as her drug-taking and drinking became notoriously more frequent, so the media swarmed around her like moths to light waiting for her to fall (literally)… it was sickening and uncomfortable to watch.
Although her paternal grandmother was a huge influence in her life, Winehouse was let down by her father (who walked out on the family when she was 9 – but not a unique occurrence!) and her ineffective mother - who, it seems, brought no discipline or structure to the struggling household.
Her father later returned (as her fame/earnings grew?) and became a strange sort of intrusive driving-force and ineffective burden (even though she adored him). It was her father who crucially advised Amy against going into rehab. It seems that she had a whole stream of people (including her equally troubled and charmless one-time husband – who appears to have introduced her to hard drugs) who were out of their depth in their attempts to manage her life, her well-being or her career. By the time she was just 21, it seems that her life was a downward spiral through drugs, with almost inevitable consequences… and so it proved.
It’s a moving and powerful film. Intimate and passionate… and heart-breaking in its inevitable end. Winehouse had an extraordinary personality, a stunning ear for jazz and a gloriously rich voice… but, sadly, it was her chaotic personal life that stole the headlines.
An impressive film.
PS: The media were quick to point out that Winehouse’s death at the age of 27, meant that she was the latest “star” to join the infamous “27 Club” (alongside Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain)… and, like them, one can only wonder what musical creativity she might have produced if she’d had anything like a “normal” lifespan (but, actually, due to her chaotic lifestyle she produced just TWO albums).
But, you could say the same about other noted musicians… Schubert died aged 31 (but had written over 1,500 pieces); Purcell, 36 (wrote well over 600 pieces); or Mozart, 35 (again, composed over 600 works); or Chopin, 39 (over 230 works survive).