RAKING COALS FOR AMY
The documentary about the short life of singer Amy Winehouse is both heartbreaking and at times uncomfortable to watch
Unsurprisingly, the new Amy Winehouse documentary Amy is full of tragedy, and not just because we already know how it ends.
One heartbreaking moment takes place moments after Winehouse won five Grammys in 2008.
The documentary shows the legal letter Winehouse had been given by her record company to stay off drugs for the event, recorded in London to air live in the US, because recent footage of her smoking crack cocaine had caused her to be denied a visa to enter America. Staying clean for the Grammys was a promise she adhered to.
Director Asif Kapadia uses unaired footage that shows Winehouse calling her lifelong friend Juliette Ashby backstage after her victories.
Winehouse tells Ashby: “Jules, this is so boring without drugs.”
Kapadia, who also made the acclaimed Ayrton Senna documentary Senna, said it was a telling moment about Winehouse’s personality.
“Amy had this darkness that made her get depressed and down. She would see the glass half empty. So in that scene you see her win all these awards and she still finds a way to bring it down; she can’t even enjoy it without any drugs.”
Kapadia spent more than a year trying to convince Winehouse’s family and friends to take part in the film; many were still grieving after her death in 2011, aged 27, from alcohol poisoning.
“People hadn’t really spoken to anyone about her or what happened to her,” Kapadia says. “There was a lot of hurt.”
The interviews were conducted with audio recording only and he secured crucial contributions from her first manager, Nick Shymansky (he brokered her record deal for her debut album Frank), and Andrew Morris, her bodyguard during her final years.
After initially lending his time and support to Kapadia, Amy’s father, Mitch, has become a vocal critic of the film. One key scene shows Shymansky taking a pre-fame Winehouse to rehab for heavy drinking. The defiant singer calls her father who said she didn’t need to go. Shymansky ponders if early rehab could have changed the singer’s life. Mitch Winehouse now says the film edited out the end of his sentence, where he said she didn’t need to go to rehab at that stage.
“I beg to differ,” Kapadia says of Mitch’s claims. “In the first interview, he didn’t say that. If you listen to Rehab, she didn’t say that. At the time he didn’t think she needed to go to rehab, that’s what the song is about.
“The nature of the film is to show what was going on at the time,” Kapadia says. “People maybe got confused and started making decisions that didn’t seem to be the best for her. If they’re now uncomfortable with that, that’s part of the process of us unravelling the story.”
One home video is particularly unsettling: Winehouse and her then husband Blake Fielder-Civil in rehab together, with her husband trying to get Winehouse to sing Rehab on camera while in actual rehab, to parody the lyrics.
“It’s really uncomfortable to watch,” Kapadia says.
Amy opens in cinemas today
Amy takes a warts-and-all look at the talented singer’s life.