Sunday, May 31, 2015

Amy Review

'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'

In Asif Kapadia's haunting documentary Amy, we are reminded of both the British jazz artist's immense talent and the tragic downward spiral her short life took that lead to her downfall at the tender age of 27 in 2011. A victim of the rapacious, unforgiving media that put her on a pedestal and then ripped her apart for the public's viewing pleasure, we're made to look back and wonder: why was it acceptable to humiliate and mock someone who was outwardly suffering to this extent? The answer is it wasn't, and it shouldn't be.

The strength of Kapadia's documentary lies in its wealth of different kinds of footage. Some of the clips recorded before her death, and even those filmed before she got famous give off the uncanny impression that it was made exactly for this, like she was doomed from the start. From home videos, private clips, interviews with friends and family, to various snippets of her public appearances and performances - it's like a patchwork. Through these bits and pieces, we get an intimate look at what went on behind the scenes of her short career in what feels like a parallel timeline, revealing to us how over simplified everything we knew about her was through the lens of a twisted media complex. The result of this insight combined with her presence resurrected on screen is captivating, ironically one of her features that ultimately doomed her, with both the public and the media having taken such a voyeuristic pleasure in her decline.

Over-layed interviews with all the majors players in Amy's life are featured, from her three closest childhood friends that at times sound on the edge of tears, to her father Mitch and her ex-husband Blake. However, for everyone who speaks, no one really seems to want to properly come to terms with the impact they may have had on her. 

It's no wonder her father didn't take very kindly to the film. A poignant figure in her life, introducing her to the jazz music she grew to love, his true colours are exposed from the start, when he put his daughter's budding career over her health, telling her she didn't need to go to rehab after an attempted suicide. When her close friends had finally managed to convince her it was what she needed, in her vulnerability, it was his opinion she valued the most. To quote her hit single Rehab, 'I ain't got the time, and if my Daddy thinks I'm fine'.

A colossal talent: Amy Winehouse

Later down the line after the overwhelming success of her album Back To Black lead her to take a break overseas, her father Mitch brought a reality television crew along to the Caribbean getaway destination where she was trying to sober up to film his Channel 4 documentary My Daughter Amy, further perpetuating his questionable motives. With a condescending attitude towards her bulimia and alcoholism, her father was one of two major male influences in her life who, though unwittingly at times, assisted her worsening state. We also get insight into her passionate yet ultimately detrimental romance with Blake Fielder-Civil, a subject of many of her songs, most notably Back to Black. Introducing her to drugs at the peak of her success, his influence lead her on a downwards slope from which she would never truly recover.

Were this a conventional cinematic narrative, it would be easy to antagonize these two major figures in her life and blame them for everything that went wrong, but we know it's more complicated than that. Almost as addicted to the idea of self-destruction as she was to the substances she abused, Kapadia exposes the exploitation she faced in her most defenceless and liable moments, one of the worst examples of which we see in her last tragic concert in Belgrade only months before her passing. How she was allowed on stage in such a pitiful state is mind-boggling, drunk and drugged up, it's clear for anyone to see that she gave up long ago. A product of the shameless and exploitative industry that built her up, we see her chewed up and spat out, an exceptional talent reduced to a dancing monkey on stage, the torturous lyrics of her songs echoes of her real struggles and feelings. Playing as backing tracks, they're bitter reminders of the most difficult period in her life, taunting her while she stumbles. Her greatest songs now a mockery of her pain, as an impatient and heartless crowd boos and heckles her.

It can only be described as heartbreaking, but her story deserved to be told. Vocalising her torment and realizing her talent in the way she did, she bared her soul to the world through her music, raw and honest. Kapadia at times manages to convince us that maybe, on some level, she wasn't made for this world. Like many young and tortured artists before her, she experienced a surge of creativity that most people could only dream of experiencing in their lifetime, burning bright and eventually fading away. Though truly, it's the music that emerged from this creativity that keeps Kapadia's documentary fresh in its most melancholic moments, her mesmerizing voice resonating throughout in some of her especially spectacular performances, highlighting her talent above all the chaos her life consisted of.

After spending over 2 hours so involved in her story, when the documentary comes to a close shortly after her death, Tony Bennett, a renowned American jazz singer and one of Amy's idols conveys many a shared sentiment in wise, heartfelt words that ache with the regret that such a young talent couldn't have had more time: 'Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.'