Amy Winehouse was a singer who was born in 1983, but died in 2011 aged only twenty-seven thanks to various personal problems she was unable to overcome, and a circle of friends and family who were unable to finally help her. This documentary charts her rise and fall, using exclusive access to the family's archive of footage from the time Amy was a little girl all the way to her eventual decline, opening with her singing happy birthday to her friend when she was a teenager, just before the rocky road to stardom began. She was captivated by the sound of her favourite jazz artists like Dinah Washington and Tony Bennett, seeking to emulate them in her own sound, but her most celebrated work was her most starkly personal.
She did know her way around a good tune, however, and director Asif Kapadi's film of Winehouse's too-well-publicised existence both presented her as a major talent and one which was squandered when she sank into the hell of drink and drugs addiction she was never able to shake off, till her eventual death. Not helping was her bulimia, which weakened her system to the extent that she couldn't take the physical rollercoaster of her drug and alcohol taking, and this did not stint on the medical facts behind her fragile health, bringing in a doctor and a psychologist to offer their professional opinion on just why she had died when she did. But there was more to it than that, as it began to point the finger.
This was a very accusatory work, and though there was nothing hysterical about its tone, which was more measured and sorrowful, the evidence was gathered to put those around Amy in the dock as if this were an inquest on film. So wide ranging was Kapadia’s focus that the entire world was brought in to face up to their inaction in the face of a young woman's untimely demise, since we allowed her to become the focus of all that media attention thanks to our insatiable appetite with her tragedy, which was not posited as that but as entertainment for the masses. To which many could say, hey, speak for yourself, I took no pleasure whatsoever in the blitz of news stories and lampooning of her situation.
There were issues closer to home as well, as though they were interviewed, the film had little time for the opinions and contributions of Winehouse's husband Blake who introduced her to drugs, nor her father Mitch who was very vocal in his criticism of this portrayal, and watching it you can well understand why, he does not come out of this smelling of roses. The way he turned every crisis in his daughter's life into a media opportunity did little to endear him, or at least that was the way it was conveyed here, apparently ignoring that the last thing he wanted was to see Amy die, and after a while the mood looked to be casting about for scapegoats, though to be fair it did have sympathy for a good few of its interviewees.
Mostly those who tried to help Winehouse and were pushed away by her and the company she was keeping, we can well appreciate there came a point when there was nothing more they could have done to stop her imminent death, she was just too far gone. Naturally, this depressing subject matter, where even seeing a clip of her happy (hanging out with her childhood friends, awestruck and singing with Tony Bennett) was tough to watch knowing that it wouldn't last to any meaningful degree, was going to overshadow the music, though all of her best known songs were heard and being aware of how personal her lyrics were (they are displayed on the screen as she sings them in the footage) allowed us to mull over how all the signs were there that this was a very troubled person. In the main, there was a sense of frustration because of that, this made clear to us that she never had the help she needed, be that because of damaging personalities around her or because she couldn't accept her chances to save herself. An angry and not particularly enjoyable experience, but it got to something in the world of celebrity that wasn't pretty, paralleled with the addiction.