If you had a turbulent childhood, no matter your parents’ intentions, drugs and alcohol could be your next choice of caregiver as soon as you were old enough to obtain them. Asif Kapadia, director of the highly acclaimed Senna, has turned his documentarist’s vision to the singer Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in July, 2011, aged just 27 years. Amy’s parents split when she was nine. After that, she ran wild; she was put on Seroxat (paroxetine) in her midteens. After a publishing deal, she moved into her own ﬂat and played all day. No one really knew about the bulimia. This is a documentary with no voiceover. It is entirely made of sound and video clips from hundreds of hours of footage and interviews, with some occasional incidental music to heighten the experience. The story speaks, profoundly, for itself. There is a depth and a magic to the young Amy, which was spotted very quickly. There were darker messages in her songs—”…my Freudian fate”—about men and about her relationship with her father, and about seeking a man who should be “stronger than me”. Her talent was outstripped by her magnetism, which pulled her inexorably away from the intimacy of jazz and towards pop stardom. But her public persona was propped up on something less substantial. In 2003, when asked how she felt about fame, she said, “I would probably go mad”. And then along came Blake. Few things are more enjoyable than two people, a pile of drugs, and the intense bubble of an empty house for the weekend. It got darker and messier, and then he went back to his girlfriend. And she wrote a new album. Who can forget the media images of the mid-late 2000s: Amy with her childlike body, huge hair, and bloodstained ballet pumps. And the drugs kept on winning, and fuelling the on– oﬀ relationship. If you felt abandoned as a child—your father “never there for the important bits”—you keep
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reaching for that feeling again. Abandonment is a form of attention. She seemed to have no steer or guide, and no boundaries that she realised she had any choice over. Her friends are a Greek chorus of increasingly tearful frustration. One of the most powerful moments is when Amy is shown standing outside a house: in the background we hear a recording of her singing We’re Still Friends, and suddenly there is another ﬁgure standing there—Blake. Because of what we know came after, there is something demonic in his presence. I was not a total fan. I always waited for her songs to climax and for her words to become easier to understand. I never liked Rehab. But its lightweight presentation reﬂects the absurdity of her situation, as the press chased her into clinics and then, in a staggeringly misguided ethical decision, she was allowed to go into rehab with Blake. Drugs make great parents, friends, and lovers. They are always available. They represent whatever you need them to represent. You will go to whatever gives you comfort the quickest. Amy ﬁnally managed to kick them when held over a barrel by her record company. But the drink remained. “She didn’t want to do it, but apparently she had to”, says her bodyguard of her ﬁnal tour. Up to the very end, the press heave around her like a swarm of snapping ﬂies. You start to wonder about the laws on self-defence when it comes to paparazzi. I remember the rows that broke out on Facebook when those terrible clips from her Serbia gig went round in the weeks before her death, about whether her management should have stopped her going on stage. But can an adult, who is deemed mentally capable, ever be prevented from destroying themselves? Like Senna, Amy is a triumph but also a tragedy.
Altitude Film Entertainment
Film I said no, no, no
Amy Directed by Asif Kapadia 128 min