Cast: Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Yasiin Bey,Tony Bennett, Blake Fielder-Civil, Juliette Ashby, Nick Shymansky, Tyler James, Salaam Remi
Director: Asif Kapadia
Death should come when one is four score and ten. Or more. Nothing is sadder than the death of a child or a young person who dies in his/her prime. But excess, for the artistically endowed, is the nature of the beast which slouches alongside fame and fortune. And to the roster of artistes who passed away before their time, gone too soon, can be added, the award winning English singer and songwriter of Jewish parentage, Amy Jade Winehouse who died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011 at age 27. The subject of this wonderful documentary by Asif Kapadia, a British director of Indian descent, Amy was, clearly, unable to cope with her drug and alcohol soaked lifestyle. If the diva was haunted by other demons, the outsider (or viewer) will never know although she gives a fair indication of this when she confesses, candidly, ” I’m sick in my head.” Or something to that effect.
Director of the acclaimed Formula 1 documentary “Senna,” Kapadia uses Amy’s own words, archival footage, interviews and song tracks to flesh out his frail,bulimia-stricken subject. It breaks the heart to see her swigging straight from the bottle in the middle of a song. The tears are never far when you see pictures of her, in childhood and adulthood, with her friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, friends she retained all her life. They speak candidly to Kapadia (who is always off camera), her friends,bodyguards, first manager Nick Shymansky, the jailbird ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil (who introduced Amy to drugs) musicians Yasin Bey (the former Mos Def) and Tony Bennett, who says Amy is as great as Billie Holliday and Ella FItzgerald.
Amy was raised in a working class household that was steeped in music. Her dad Mitch sang Frank Sinatra to her as a child, her paternal grandmother was a singer. Her maternal uncles played jazz for a living. Blessed with gorgeous hazel eyes and a beautiful aquiline nose, Amy always had attitude.That she was a happy but headstrong child comes out clearly in a riveting piece of home movie footage; her mother Janice too admits her inability to enforce discipline, the lack of which can be life-altering when parents divorce. That Amy felt abandoned by her dad comes through. As does the Freudian undertone, when she tells Bennett, ” I want to make my dad jealous.”
When Amy sings “Addicted”, “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” “she is baring her troubled soul. When she moans, “Love Is a Losing Game” she was singing from the bottom of her broken heart. Amy and Blake hurt each other terribly, and then claimed the injuries were self-inflicted! “Rehab” sounded poignant to me when I first heard it on AIR FM. More so when I saw Kapadia’s film this week.
Reportedly, Mitch Winehouse is unhappy with the documentary because it shows him,warts and all. He shouldn’t be. I also read somewhere that Universal Music U.K. boss David Joseph destroyed Amy’s demo tapes so the unfinished material of jazz, soul, rhythm and blues and reggae can never be released. I think this is terrible and Mitch should sue.