Friday, July 10, 2015

More Than Smeared Eyeliner: Amy

This review originally appeared on

While most of the world seemed to view the death of Amy Winehouse as unsurprising and an inevitable end, I was shocked. I thought she'd end up the equivalent of Keith Richards, or Courtney Love: rock stars who live the lifestyle to the extreme, but who never made into the 27 Club. But after seeing the documentary Amy, I now know there was no hope of that; she was doomed.

If you're a fan of documentaries, the film is worth seeing — even if you aren't a fan of Winehouse's music — because it's a remarkable piece of curation: No new footage was shot for the film, and all new interviews are only heard as voiceover. Instead, it consists entirely of archival video and film, shot by her family and friends, as well as stuff shot for TV and, most disturbingly of all, paparazzi footage; she was hounded by them until her death.

And it's this image of her that prevailed, until now. Thanks to this film, we get to see the Amy that, at age 14, could belt out a version of "Happy Birthday" worthy of the jazz singers she idolized; the Amy that was a burgeoining musician — still just in her teens — promoting her first album, and answering questions about fame with answers like "I don't think I'm gonna be at all famous. I don't think I could handle it. I'd probably go mad."

It's also great seeing the subtle look of disgust she gives when asked what it's like to be shot by photographer Terry Richardson, and not hiding her complete boredom at an interviewer's droning on about Dido's lyrics. Seeing these moments of personality that are so different from the images of her walking through the streets of London in bloody ballet slippers and smeared eyeliner turns her downfall into something heartbreaking, and not something to be joked about — as was the case so often towards the end of her life.

The film doesn't shy away from presenting those who surrounded her after she hit it big as the shitty support system they were. An opportunist father; a dirt bag junkie husband; managers who really didn't know what the hell they were doing. She was only 22 when Back to Black was released, and clearly not prepared for the fame it would bring her. If only she had lived long enough to learn how to live through it.

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