Amy Winehouse’s biography could have been done differently; scouring the lookalike agencies would have turned up a Jewish Londoner with an unkempt beehive, pierced lip and heavy eyeliner. Several actresses could have pulled off Winehouse’s vulnerability. But no-one would be able to replicate the voice; not even come close. Which is why Asif Kapadia’s use of authentic footage, recordings, photographs, interviews, TV appearances and friends’ commentaries was the only way to tell Amy’s story.
There probably wasn’t a lot about Amy Winehouse that I hadn’t gleaned from the media before I went to see film. Prodigiously talented, but struggling with an eating disorder, alcoholism and substance abuse. This was all true, but as I watched ‘Amy’, the fact that I’d learned this from paparazzi photos and newspaper gossip columnists made me feel deeply ashamed. The film is unequivocal in its criticism of the ceaseless press intrusion which the singer endured. At one event, Winehouse visibly flinches and involuntarily puts up her hands to shield herself from the baying, flashing crowd of photographers wanting a piece of her: “don’t shout. don’t shout,” she implores. Even when her family intervened and took her to a hotel to try and persuade Amy to seek help to beat her addictions, reporters bagged the remaining rooms and stalked her on the patio. She didn’t sign up for that kind of attention, she wanted to sing.
Neither Amy’s husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, nor her father, Mitch Winehouse, come out well in Kapadia’s film. Both appear exploitative, keen to keep their cash cow on the road, often to Amy’s detriment. Others though. including Amy’s close female friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, her first manager Nick Shamansky and bodyguard Andrew Morris, express unassailable devotion to their troubled star.
Of course Amy’s own music and incomparable voice are the soundtrack to the film, which includes previously unreleased material together with some more well-known TV show appearances and concert performances.
Unbeknownst to my daughter and I at the time, we actually saw the film on the anniversary of Winehouse’s death from alcohol poisoning in 2011. What an absolute waste of a life. There really is so much to say about this film; I could easily watch it again, and probably again. Although it is about Amy Winehouse, it is actually about all of us – our insatiable thirst for celebrity news, and the devastation brought about by the lethal combination of fame and substance abuse. Utterly heartbreaking.