Wine­house doc­u­men­tary ex­am­ines singer’s trou­bled life

The Progress-Index - At Home - - ANDREA HONAKER MOVIE REVIEW - By Ed Symkus

Pow­er­house Bri­tish jaz­zpop singer-writer Amy Wine­house died four years ago at the age of 27. The of­fi­cial cause was al­co­hol poi­son­ing, but what wasn’t openly con­sid­ered was her heroin ad­dic­tion and bat­tle with bu­limia, not to men­tion the emo­tional toil dur­ing the many rises and falls in her rel­a­tively brief mu­si­cal ca­reer. But de­spite the fact that this sounds aw­fully de­press­ing, keep it on your “to see” list.

Bri­tish doc­u­men­tar­ian Asif Ka­pa­dia has put to­gether an in­ti­mate look at the trou­bled en­ter­tainer, and though it comes to a ter­ri­ble end, and there are some wince-in­duc­ing mo­ments, he in­fuses the first half of “Amy” with a great deal of pos­i­tive energy: trac­ing her begin­nings as a singer, and her evo­lu­tion as a lyri­cist and a per­former.

Ka­pa­dia be­gins the film with Wine­house, age 15, singing “Happy Birth­day” to a pal. Be­fore the open­ing cred­its are done, there she is, at 16, singing “Moon River” in front of the Na­tional Youth Jazz Or­ches­tra. A decade, two well re­ceived al­bums, and five Grammy stat­ues later, she’s got­ten mixed up with peo­ple who were good for her and peo­ple who weren’t. Her drug-ad­dled hus­band, Blake Field­erCivil, was prob­a­bly a bit of both. Her fa­ther, Mitchell, comes across as the film’s vil­lain, us­ing his daugh­ter’s suc­cess as a spring­board for his own, and in­sist­ing that she didn’t need to go to re­hab – part of which she chron­i­cles in her hit “Re­hab,” which is, as was most of her work, au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal.

Ka­pa­dia never got to in­ter­view Wine­house, but re­search got him in touch with plenty of peo­ple who knew her well, and whose trust he even­tu­ally earned to the de­gree that they would talk about her and share photos and video of her with him. But this is no typ­i­cal “talk­ing heads” doc­u­men­tary. There’s footage of Wine­house speak­ing and per­form­ing, but al­most ev­ery­thing else is done in voiceover by the par­tic­i­pants.

The most in­ter­est­ing ap­proach Ka­pa­dia took was to give a whole new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Wine­house as a com­poser, by show­ing pages from her di­aries, which con­tained what would be­come her songs, as the songs are be­ing per­formed. So view­ers can read the lyrics while hear­ing her sing them. There’s no doubt that there will be fer­vent emo­tional re­ac­tions to the words of “Stronger Than Me,” in which she longs for a part­ner that fits that ti­tle, or for the self-ex­plana­tory “Love Is a Los­ing Game.”

But even if the words weren’t there, it would be im­pos­si­ble not to be knocked out by the pas­sion that Wine­house gave to her live per­for­mances, whether she’s seen at 18, sit­ting in a record com­pany of­fice, ac­com­pa­ny­ing her­self on acous­tic guitar and singing “I Heard Live Is Blind” or later play­ing in a small club with just an elec­tric guitar or even later, with a full band at a huge out­door fes­ti­val.

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