Those looking for villains in the obscenely short life of British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse will find a few in “Amy,” the new documentary about her life and death.
Director Asif Kapadia had the gloves off for his much-honored 2010 doc about the life and death of champion Formula One driver Aryton Senna (“Senna”). Here, he serves up Amy’s once-estranged self-serving father, Mitch, her junky leech of a husband Blake Fielder-Civil, and the promoter she made her manager, Raye Cosbert, a guy with serious financial conflicts of interest regarding her touring schedule and her health as bad guys.
But if you’re looking for answers for the “Rehab” jazz and soul singer’s death from alcohol poisoning, the simplest one comes from a lifelong friend, who recalls what Amy said on the night of her greatest Grammy triumph.
“This is so BOOOring without drugs!”
“Amy,” using interviews in voice-over, archival TV interviews, voice mail messages and concert footage, captures the meteoric rise of an old soul singer in a young working class Jewish waif’s body. Home movies with Amy in her early teens belting out “Happy Birthday,” will give you chills.
The sophisticated jazz phrasing, the Billie Holiday/Carole King tones, Winehouse was like nothing on pop music radio a decade ago. Colleagues noted how she “was almost embarrassed” by the sudden burst of fame, the tabloid infamy that came with her stardom. A potential long career as a Next Generation saloon singer went by the wayside as she rode autobiographical hits into the public eye.
Kapadia captures the assaultive nature of paparazzi attention — percussive flashes greeting her every youthful indiscretion — and tracks the healthy-looking young woman whose bulimia and substance abuse turned her into a cadaver with a beehive hairdo. As with Kurt Cobain, subject of an equally fine and revealing documentary this spring on HBO, nobody can say they didn’t see her untimely demise coming.
So blame the lover who introduced her to heroin, blame the father who told her she didn’t need to go to rehab, the overwhelmed mother who couldn’t handle her talented daughter who never learned impulse control. Blame the media and the public’s mania for a singer whose autobiographical London-Jewish soul made her an object of adoration and morbid fascination. But “Amy” does its greatest service by holding up a mirror to this sad icon who lived her life in imitation of “The Rose.”
Rehab? “I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine, He’s tried to make me go to rehab, I won’t go, go, go.”
MPAA Rating: R for language and drug material
Cast: Amy Winehouse, Blake Fielder-Civil, Nick Shymansky, Mitch Winehouse, Tony Bennett, Salaam Remi , Mark Ronson, Raye Cosbert
Credits: Directed by Asif Kapadia. An A24 release.
Running time: 2:08