Amy: Her Lyrics Say It All
I’m not quite sure how I heard about Amy Winehouse--whether it was through her smash hit “Rehab” or through my brother (who has a habit of finding great music ahead of the masses), but I do remember thinking that she was nothing like I’d ever heard before. As a kid raised on Frank Sinatra and jazz, Amy Winehouse was that artist I had secretly longed for without even knowing it: one that bridged the gaps between (as Amy calls it) elitist jazz music, the catchiness of a pop song, and piercingly authentic lyrics.
So when she died in 2011 of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, I like so many others felt a deep sadness, in knowing that her last songs were just that, her last, and also in knowing that in some way we are all to blame for her dying so young.
Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy, captures this feeling painfully well. Created mainly through home videos and archive footage, it gives a true portrayal of the woman without all the spin, jokes and commentary that were often attached to her image in her final years. We see Amy just as she is—a young woman coping with many of the problems that young women have—a distant father, unconquerable body-image issues, and a desperate need to be loved. But in between all that she was a plucky, daring musician, and like so many artists, her art form was the outlet for her pain.
Kapadia literally spells it out for us as he writes her lyrics on the screen while we hear them. That is how the film narrates itself. For instance, when we learn of her father’s infidelity during her childhood, we see her perform at a dark bar, with the lyrics scrawling on the screen: “Understand once he was a family man/So surely I would never, ever go through it first hand/Emulate all the **** my mother hated/ I can't help but demonstrate my Freudian fate.”
I think that is what is so great about this documentary—that Kapadia was able to use real footage and real lyrics to express what she went through, rather than hearsay and opinion. We see her transform from a spunky, round-faced kid into some gaunt vampiric version of herself, her body mirroring her drained spirit. All the while, the media is there at her doorstep, flashing pictures so quickly she might as well be in front of a hundred strobe lights. It’s really quite disturbing to watch, and imagine that she must have had to walk into that everywhere she went.
I think what hit me hardest was an audio bite from an interview with her old friend that went something like, “suddenly it became cool to crack jokes about a bulimic’s appearance and her addiction”, and realize that I joined in on a laugh or two at her expense, while watching comedians make fun of her at her most garish and embarrassing. Indeed what the film implicates is that it was not only those closest to her that enabled her destruction, but the entire media circus, her fans included, that made it impossible for her to get better.
But beyond that hard-hitting feeling of guilt, I felt a renewed sense of her genius. Her soulful voice, too-true lyrics, and catchy melodies bask in the same timelessness of the greats that inspired her. It has definitely inspired me to give her albums a fresh listen and celebrate her unique style once more.
You can find Amy on Execulink’s VOD channel (ch.100) from Dec 1st 2015 to February 29th 2016.