More than any other industry, music seems to be the one that raises talented people to the greatest heights before tearing them back down again. Some have managed to step off the pedestal without causing themselves any fatal injuries, like Dylan when he faked a motorcycle accident in the mid-’60s and disappeared into upstate New York, away from his ravenous fans, and his equally ravenous detractors. But usually, the stories we hear are about those who didn’t make it out alive.
There’s an element of romance to the young musicians who burned themselves out. Indeed for some the dubious honour of being included in “The 27 Club” is something to create playlists and concerts around. Upon Amy Winehouse’s death at the age of 27, some argued whether she was fit to join such luminaries as Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Janice Joplin in that club. What Asif Kapadia’s film Amy attempts to do is demystify the life of the latest member of that club, with the ultimate goal of showing that there is nothing romantic about dying young and talented.
Largely composed of stock footage of Winehouse’s life, from home videos to media appearances, and interspersed with friends and family interviews, Amy charts the singer’s life from pre-fame to death with a very distinct goal in mind: fame, the film tells us, is a disease to those with passion and talent, one that will eventually kill them. It does this by showing the media environment Winehouse found herself surrounded by. She started off her career being regarded as an off-kilter but genuine soul, unpolished by PR. But she developed a drug addiction that turned her from an unbridled personality into a media punchline.
The film identifies the causes of Winehouse’s death to a long downward spiral, but in particular to her childlike devotion to those she loved, whether they had her best interests at heart or not. The sad fact is that those who wish to exploit fame are the ones who tend to hold on the tightest, whereas the ones who care the most about the person – rather than what the person can do for them – reach a point where they can’t stomach watching them sink lower every day. The film casts Winehouse’s father Mitch and husband Blake Fielder as the villains in the piece.
What buoys the film’s sense of tragedy however is its representation of Winehouse as someone who was basically hugely talented and passionate about music. Without the wisdom or mentorship she needed to keep her feet on the ground, she got swept up by the hype and crushed beneath the weight of it. Amy is a brilliant and poignant portrait of a singer who could conceivably have been long-term asset to the world of music.
In cinemas 03 July 2015. Watch the trailer here.