27: Gone Too Soon – “Speculative and cheap”

Asif Kapadia’s magnificent documentary, Amy, chronicled the life of legendary singer and troubled starlet of her time, Amy Winehouse. The brutal reality of her early death, at the age of 27 due to a drug overdose, is difficult to truly grasp until you’re a little older. At 27, you’re young and free.

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You carve out the foundation stones that will set you up for life. When you’re a little older than 27, you look at those younger and remain envious of the opportunities ahead of them. 27: Gone Too Soon points the lens at those who perished at such a young age; those on the rock scene and had so much more to give. Fame and fortune, nevertheless, has a high cost and addiction or depression has never been something a small pill can fix. Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse – these are the members of the infamous “27 Club”.

Speaking to current musicians, psychologists and journalists, 27: Gone Too Soon is broken into six chunks, discussing each musician and how they perished. There’s an awkward nostalgia fused within this dark topic, as the fashionable zeitgeist of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll is clearly part of the problem of the era. When cocaine is discussed, it’s matter-of-factly considered another little cheeky bit of fun that no one realised could be so destructive. Crucially, as the documentary moves from one figure to another, it is clear that this is merely a functional exploration of an issue that’s much more complex than these chatty celebs. “Every artist is fucked up in their childhood”, muses one, as if this is irrefutable.

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To make matters considerably worse, there’s a problem in a music documentary if you have failed to get the rights to use their music. Nameless rock backing-tracks drone on throughout, peaking with a strange choice in the final “conclusion”. While the filmmakers wanted something strong and meaningful, it comes off as weirdly uplifting in its tone, jarring completely with the talking heads that try and summarise the tragedy of such early deaths.

27: Gone Too Soon begins with dialogue from lead singers of bands including the Palma Violets, Years and Years and Gary Numan. It hints at the potential discussion of the current trends and the dangers that face the up and coming artists today. Suffice to say, these particular people only pop up fleetingly and instead, broadcasters and “showbiz” columnists, Paul Gambaccini and Lesley ann Jones seem to take the lion’s share of chitchatting about troubled stars they barely knew. The limited space to discuss each artist, with only milliseconds of their actual music used, gives you no real sense of their talent.

To close each section, they finish with a card that reads the musicians name, noting their date of birth and the day they died. In brackets, it then reminds us: “Aged 27”. This is a documentary called 27: Gone Too Soon. This ridiculous oversight reveals how rushed and thoughtless this documentary is. It is like a Buzzfeed article; nothing profound to say, nothing new to reveal and merely taking advantage of those willing to talk about death so nonchalantly. In this “druggie world”, we’re told “no one knew” about addiction. People were powerless and, in the case of Amy Winehouse, “she didn’t seem to make the right choices”. Speculative and cheap, 27: Gone Too Soon is a little insight into a gossipy fame club, as those on peripheries talk flippantly about personal issues and dismiss them just as quick. Re-watch Kapadia’s Amy and be sure that you’ll learn nothing new here.

This was originally published for Culturefly.co.uk in March 2018

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