What takes your breath away, watching Asif Kapadia’s outstanding documentary on Amy Winehouse, Amy, is how much she was hounded.
Reminding us of those final moments in Princess Diana’s life, Winehouse courted paparazzi even in death, snapping and ‘capturing’ a hospital bed wheeled out of her house, with her 27-year-old body covered. No one needed photo evidence this act happened. But it was captured nevertheless. July 23rd 2011, a day when once again, the assumption that fame and money means success and happiness is disproved. As it was when Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain were found, at their respective homes, dead at a shockingly young age.
Released this weekend, Amy has already gained press coverage as Winehouse’s father, Mitch, has claimed the documentary is “a disgrace” and stated the filmmakers “should be ashamed”. Contrary to his opinion, though he isn’t framed as the strongest father, Kapadia structures the documentary as the rise, and slow, tragic decline of Amy’s life. No one person is to blame. Mitch, and there is no way to sugar coat this, had an affair for years that eventually led to her parent’s divorce. This became the catalyst for Amy’s rebellious persona. Her father also courted celebrity on many occasion, bringing a camera crew shortly after Amy left rehab and even, in the earlier days, claiming that she didn’t need to go to rehab at all. “I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine/He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go, go, go…”.
It’s clear that he believed she was invincible, until his worst nightmare became true. But we’re reminded that her mother wasn’t strong enough to rein her in as a teenager either. Then we hear her infamous ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, admit he introduced her to heroin. Her manager pushed her to tour, when she was clearly not in a state to perform. She was apparently paid millions per gig in those later years, stumbling and refusing to sing to a booing crowd. Kapadia doesn’t tell us of any single person who is at fault. Everyone made a mistake and Amy paid the price.
But it is the press who are relentless. Amy struggled with depression, and suffered from bulimia. These health challenges, combined with a bolshie YOLO persona, millions of pounds and a media, hungry for blood, it is clear that the society we have built is at fault here. She was mocked by Jay Leno, Graham Norton and Frankie Boyle. Russell Brand, an ex-addict himself tried to intervene to support her, but it ultimately didn’t stop this train from reaching the final, inevitable, destination.
And that is the saddest thing. We watch a beautiful, exceptionally talented musician reduced to tabloid shock-stories and argue how it was inevitable. At the time, many will remember our own useless criticisms as we’d see her splashed over the front of a newspaper with blood on her shoes revealing her drug-addiction, yet again. She was off the rails. She was foolish. She has too much money. Maybe. She was also a young, reckless girl with a health issue that couldn’t be curbed. Or wouldn’t be curbed.
Amy begins as a music-documentary, charting how her career progressed. From Frank to Back to Black. Her muted, but clear, distaste when she is compared to Dido. Her laughter upon hearing Justin Timberlake’s album title. She was an artist through and through, and halfway into the documentary the direction changes, almost as a ‘twist’. You thought this was about music – it’s not. She wasn’t interested in money, despite how much she earned. If we – the paparazzi, the press, the music industry, the family – weren’t interested in money either perhaps she’d still be here. Amy paves the way for reflection. It shows how human, flaws and all, Amy Winehouse was – and yet, with all the money in the world, we couldn’t stand back and pause and take the pressure off. Newspapers had to be printed, gossip had to be circulated and tickets were to be sold. Amy shows we’re all responsible.
This was originally written/published for Flickering Myth in July 2015