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DVD Review by Diane McCurdy - Amy


DVD Review by Diane McCurdy

By Diane McCurdy

Amy Winehouse was a little Jewish girl from north London who got caught up in the riptide that traps so many young performers: too much fame too fast and too furiously. She did not have the maturity to handle the “sex, drugs, rock and roll” milieu into which she was thrust and this documentary film traces her descent into tragedy.

 Amy begins at the birthday party of one of her life long friends. Amy is pixie-tiny and brassy-sassy. This is when we first hear that voice and already it has echoes of those smoky, bluesy notes that would become iconic. Not that long after, she bursts onto the scene like a shooting star with her breakthrough album “Back to Black” which sold 20 million albums and won 5 Grammys. The signature tune “Rehab” reflected on her image as a coquette. Too soon her star flamed out following the trajectory of Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.

Those in the know would predict that she had the chops to one of the greats, a raw talent. She had a street wise style and with her outrageous bee hive hair-do and garish cat eyes, she was a born performer. Always there was a love/hate relationship with the paparazzi who documented, in intimate detail, every step of her eventual breakdown. She was endowed with an abundance of positive gifts but along with those came negative proclivities: a zest for excessive partying, a fondness for drugs and alcohol, an addictive personality and an unfortunate choice of men in her life who exacerbated her every weakness. Her father seems to be in denial of her obvious serious problems and her husband fed her drug problem in order to facilitate his own.

Director, Asif Kapadia, edited hundreds of hours of archival footage, some grainy and unfocused and some professional and fairly contemporary He also used performance videos, personal photographs and newsreels. The film is not always easy to watch as Amy spirals out of control but because of the director’s intimate approach it makes it clear what elements led her to the path that she took. There was an Amy Winehouse retrospective at the Jewish museum in San Francisco which gave me an added dimension because I saw her as a normal kid and that it was her prodigious talent that actually contributed to her downfall. This sometimes depressing but well executed film does end on a high note when the great octogenarian, Tony Bennett, places Amy in the pantheon that includes Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin.