‘Amy is an emotional, electrical exposition of a rare, pure, musically gifted genius, equally destroyed by both love and fame.’
Four years after the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, Amy: The Girl Behind the Name, a new documentary by Senna director Asif Kapadia, illustrates a brooding, heartbreaking insight into her life leading up to her inevitable demise.
The film opens with a younger, still distinctively wide-eyed, Lolita-like Amy, sucking on a lollipop and singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in the style of Marilyn Monroe, ironically foreshadowing the life and public death Amy would suffer later in her adult years. Kapadia stitches the film’s narrative together with private home-videos, vérité fan-footage and news coverage, each dubbed over with emotional, anecdotal contributions by Amy’s family, friends and work colleagues. For the most part, the film spends a lot of time drawing your attention towards the most important aspects of Amy’s being, such as her ability to manifest a deep, honest lyrical-introspective through music. Kapadia reflects the various emotional conflicts and heartaches that Amy experienced throughout the majority of her adult life through diary-like edits; lyrics slowly fade in, in sync with snippets of Amy’s triumphantly sombre, personal tracks, such as ‘Back to Black’ and ‘An Unholy War.’ The handwritten text fading gracefully in and out of the screen redefines how you think about Amy as well as her work, as an artist who truly embraced (and needed) the cathartic nature of music.
In one of several public interview snippets shown throughout the film, Amy is asked about how she believes she’ll deal with the public’s expectations of her as a rising musical-artist in the mainstream light, to which she laughs that the only thing the public should expect from her is ‘making music’, sincerely claiming that that is all she’s good for. A recurring motif throughout Kapadia’s film is the exploration of Amy’s complicated relationship with fame. Early on in the film, he links Amy’s cynical views on fame and contemporary music to Camden’s musical scene, a scene she adored unconditionally before her rise to stardom, where unestablished artists thrived on obscurity and performing in bars to small crowds of people. The film rarely holds back in emphasizing the merciless irony of Amy’s career, that an utterly soulful artist such as her became the target of a world that largely chose to seek out, expose and judge the wreckage of her personal life, after what (in comparison) seemed like a brief period of glorifying her for her musical ability.
One could easily argue that the pressures of fame itself acted as a catalyst for Amy’s downward spiral, but the film’s notions of what really caused Amy’s public downfall and subsequent death interestingly centres around the two most important men in her life. Amy’s father, Mitchell Winehouse, recently stated that he wants no involvement with the film due to his misrepresentation as an antagonist within the feature itself. Kapadia’s film takes us back to the star’s childhood early on in the film, where Amy’s mother remembers the early signs of her daughter’s reckless, self-destructive nature whilst interestingly linking the absence of Amy’s father as an apparent factor that contributed towards her juvenile behaviour. And at the dark heart of Amy is its narrative centrepiece; Amy’s relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a man that most blame for influencing Amy’s destructive state towards the end of her life. It’s in the film’s deep exploration of her relationship with the two men, that Kapadia controversially conjures up a psychological link between the absence of Amy’s father and the inescapable, compulsive love she felt for Blake.
There’s no doubt that Amy is an emotional, electric exposition of a rare, pure, musically gifted genius destroyed by both love and fame. And when you turn your ears towards the lyrical foundations of love, heartache and addiction that underpinned her second and final studio album, Back to Black, it’s difficult to believe that alcohol poisoning alone caused Amy Winehouse’s death; throughout the song of the same name, the troubled artist echoes ‘I died one hundred times’, referring to the pain of her breakup with Blake. But to us, the audience of a public tragedy, the line now highlights the inconceivable weight of an industry she both loathed and worshipped, a world she’d fatefully fallen into without even realizing it.
(Featured image credit: Taken from IMDb.)