Sunday, November 29, 2015

Video review: "Amy"

I’m at an age where one stops paying much attention to the popular music of the day, preferring the sounds of our youth. So I experienced the swift rise and early death of singer Amy Winehouse from a distance, where it’s easier to smirk and make light of another person’s tragedy.

Workaday people have a hard time relating to the struggles of creative personalities -- especially successful ones who earn millions of dollars at a young age while doing what they love. ‘Give me those kinds of problems,’ we say.

“Amy” is a great documentary film because, like the best of its kind, it can take a subject that appears alien or even laughable to us, and make it seem immediate and very human. This portrait of a tender soul who had it all, and lost it all, is heartbreaking and fascinating.

Director Asif Kapadia (“Senna”) shows great empathy toward Winehouse, but never drops the journalistic mode of exploration to simply genuflect and celebrate. It shows the moody, bluesy singer in all her amazing glory, and pitiable squalor.

Her seriocomic life played out in an extravagant public parade of drugs, wastrel boyfriends, abuse and disaffection. With her beehive hairdo and slathered makeup, Winehouse resembled a 1960s West End hooker who wandered up on stage and turned out to have amazing pipes.

She wrote great, soaring songs about life’s lows -- her lyrics were autobiographical, confessional, defiant. We drank in the catchy R&B bliss and tittered at the ridiculous person who belted it at us. Every news cycle seemed to produce more lurid behavior; the portrait of a hard-partying girl who couldn’t say no to temptation became fixed.

This was, after all, a woman whose biggest hit single was about refusing to go to rehab.

The film has the usual testimonials from people who knew her, and plenty of interviews with Amy herself. What makes it truly revelatory are the many private videos she and her loved ones shot, talking freely without posterity looking over their shoulder. Here Winehouse reveals her innermost self – including her prediction, while still a struggling teen artist, that she will not bear fame very well.

How dreadfully right she was. This documentary underlines how misguided we were -- I was -- to laugh at Amy Winehouse. All we have now are her echoes.

Bonus features are decent, anchored by a feature-length audio commentary track by Kapadia. The DVD also has video of previously unseen performances by Winehouse, plus deleted scenes. Upgrade to the Blu-ray, and you add interviews with friends and musicians.



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