Halfway through the splendid Amy Winehouse documentary, simply titled Amy, there is a scene where the greatest soul-jazz singer of her generation is at a club in London but connected live by satellite to the 50th Grammy Awards ceremony. Unable to travel internationally because of her notorious battles with addiction, Winehouse is participating remotely because she’s up for a half-dozen Grammy nominations for her Back To Black album. She famously wins all six, but it’s when she nabs the prestigious Album of the Year, that it happens: her friends and band mates are jubilant, but as the camera dollies in on Winehouse the look on her face is one of sheer terror.
Earlier in the film, when she was younger and still on the cusp of fame, the singer had declared that success was “bollocks” and would be terrible for her. And now, mired in a poisonous relationship with a hipster junkie musician and surrounded by a management team eager to exploit her incredible success and indifferent to her personal struggles, it’s as if Winehouse somehow knew that she was now inescapably doomed. It’s a haunting moment in one of the saddest movies of the year.
Comprised mostly of home movie footage, candid interviews with friends and colleagues, and scenes in clubs and recording studios, Amy does a great job of showing the emergence of Winehouse’s extraordinary talent … and then chronicling her tragic fall into drug- and alcohol-fueled excesses that destroyed all her important relationships. By the time a once-fawning press turn on her with ferocious glee, the musical icon who had once performed her ironic hit Rehab with sassy triumph on shows like David Letterman had become a pathetic media punching bag.
There have been many celebrity deaths over the years, but few as poignant as that of Winehouse. With only two CDs to her credit, she nonetheless established herself as a unique, towering talent. Initially a jazz singer, her later work was more accessible, a catchy and smart update of girl-group soul. But whatever she sang, it was her marvelously expressive contralto, dark as espresso, which grabbed such a wide array of listeners by the heart. The footage of her recording-studio duet with Tony Bennett showcases both her vulnerability and her awesome vocal gifts, while the decision to scrawl her lyrics onscreen as she sings them does a great job of pulling the audience deep into her vivid emotional world.
What a loss.
Stars Amy Winehouse, Yasiin Bey, Tony Bennett
Directed by Asif Kapadia
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