Amy (2015)

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Movie a Day Blog never saw much in Amy Winehouse other than a horrible train wreck taking place in the public eye.

I knew her songs, “Rehab” and “Back to Black” and I thought she had a great whiskey-saturated voice, but I never was aware of her jazz singing or her lyrics.

AMY (2015, Theatrical) changed all that. Along with being the finest documentary of the year so far, AMY is a devastating and accurate portrait of an artist going down all the wrong paths.

The British director Asif Kapadia, who also made the excellent race car driver documentary SENNA (2010, Movie a Day 5/4/12), had unparalleled access to a performer’s personal life. Extensive home videos, text and voice mail messages, and of course, the unbelievable media attention all provide Kapadia with the raw material of an artistic and emotional breakdown.

Winehouse’s death at age 26 seems so preventable in retrospect, but AMY is devastating in its apportioning of blame, primarily to the dominant men in Amy’s life.

These include her profiteering father Mitch, who deserted her as a child and comes back only to exploit her for money and fame; her drug-addicted husband Blake Fielder, who gets her hooked on crack cocaine and heroin; and Raye Cosbert,her heartless manager/promoter (a deadly combination to be avoided by all musicians) who sends her out on the road when she’s an emotional and physical basket case.

There are the good guys, too: her original manager and childhood friend Nick Shymansky, and her girlhood chums Lauren and Juliette, but they can’t stop the inexorable price fame exacts from a humble Jewish girl from North London who never fixes her accent or her teeth.

The revelation in AMY is the depth and range of her singing talent, and her inexhaustible and brilliant fount of lyrics, possibly the best-written of her era of singer-songwriters. Tony Bennett is as in awe of her voice as the rest of us, and his kindness when they perform a duet in one of her final cogent moments is moving.

The waste of this talent through manipulation, addiction, exploitation and finally subjugation make AMY a thoroughly depressing film to watch, without ever lessening its impact and importance.

No more realistic film has been made that documents what it feels like to be in the glare of the paparazzis’ continuous attention; Kapadia jacks up the high white contrast of the constant  flashbulbs until we, too, feel like a hunted animal.

For once, a 128-minute film did not feel a second too long.

AMY makes the case that the media was one of the culprits tmurdered Amy Winehouse; at the end of her life, she saw few alternatives open to her other than drinking and drugging herself to death. There are plenty of other guilty parties, from blood relatives to professional exploiters, and some responsibility falls on fans who can’t live without the latest expose about the stars they love/hate.

Whatever emotions AMY arouses, whether a desire for vengeance (clearly my response) or  mourning a generational artistic loss, the film is powerfully effective in giving us its subject, in her own words and images, unvarnished, so talented, so lost.

This is the documentary to beat if you want to win this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

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