I left Asif Kapadia’s new documentary on Amy Winehouse as the electric storm hit on Friday. The sky thundered and bellowed, I got soaked to skin as the fresh salty tears flooding my face mingled with the downpour whilst I ran home from Brixton Ritzy getting drenched. I couldn’t help but think that this was Amy. A gorgeous storm, the small North London Jewish girl with a voice like an elemental force, an earth shattering, soul changing sound within her.
Many have written on the film’s depiction of the ‘culprits’ at the heart of Amy’s downfall, her father Mitch has questioned its negative portrayal of his hand in the sickeningly sad loss of Amy and her immeasurable talent. Of course, there are heartbreaking moments drawn from these dynamics. Particularly saddening is her husband Blake Fielder-Civil carelessly and cruelly coaxing her to sing an updated hook of ‘yes,yes,yes’ to ‘Rehab’ during a stay in rehab to which Amy replies ‘I don’t mind it here’. The other heart-wrenching moment comes when Amy’s father, much-loved by his daughter, as the film repeatedly states ‘Amy worshipped the ground he walked on’, arrives to see her during a sojourn in St Lucia, camera crew in tow for a mawkishly titled TV show.
The hellish paparazzi footage of her constant hounding is horrifying to watch and acts as a potent reminder that anyone who even thinks about scrolling through the Daily Fail’s ‘Sidebar of Shame’ is responsible for contributing to a toxic, exploitative tabloid culture which harasses and commodifies women. As Billy Bragg states: ‘You who love that kiss and tell, you must bear some guilt as well. Scousers never buy the Sun’.
Beyond the heartbreaking way that events unfurled in Amy’s life, I took away from the film most of all, not only the incomparable talent Amy possessed, but the graft, the grit and determination that went into it. She was a true original, true to her instincts and utterly justified in sniggering at comparisons to Justin Timberlake and Dido, for someone who wrote and sang so honestly and effortlessly, for an artist who was the true inheritor of the gifts of jazz goddess forebears like Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson, the constant mention of Katie Melua and an interviewer attempting to emote to her about how profound ‘Life for Rent’ by Dido is, is understandably tedious.
It is Amy’s wry and dry wit, along with her staggering talent, that are the true centrepieces of the film and Kapadia’s greatest achievement in ‘Amy’ is telling her story through her songs, as she did herself. The lyrics are the narrator of this tale, weaving their way across the screen as that inimitable voice creates magic.
I run home with ‘What is About Men’ from Frank blaring in my ears, the rain beating down around me, awed once more by Amy’s phenomenal talent. Rest in poetry and peace Ms Winehouse, you gorgeous storm.