Friday, February 5, 2016

Movie Review: Amy

Image found here.
I enjoy documentaries and biographies, so when Redbox had Amy, I rented it (well, once I had a free credit, of course).

The movie starts out with a home video of her singing, which is quite cute. She looks so innocent, so different from the famous, public version of Amy that we all knew. Throughout the film, you see lots of hand-held videos of friends, her talent agent, and herself. She seems like a nice, normal girl, joking around with friends or napping in the back seat of a car. Amy was actually really silly around those she was close with. These home videos show her sucking on lollipops, affectionately licking people's faces, talking nonsense into the camera, and asking random questions like, "Do you think you could eat fifty eggs?" And once she had her own flat, she answered the door and pretended to be an Eastern European housekeeper (accent and all), like she herself could never live in a nice place like that. These personal videos let you see a side of Amy that was not in the public eye. She didn't seem like a celebrity at all: she was just a girl who liked to sing.

And throughout the movie, Amy reiterates how much she loved to sing, but never really thought of being a professional singer. Even with such an amazing voice, such talent, she was quite modest and never thought she would be famous. In the documentary, Amy is quoted saying how she didn't care about the fame or about her songs making it to #1 on the charts; she just wanted to "make tunes." She even said, "I don't think I could handle [the fame]. I would go quite mad." She knew herself well, and seemed to foreshadow her own demise.

A still from the movie. Image found here.
Although Amy may not have wanted to be famous, she put her entire self out there for the world to see, mainly through her music. She wrote poetry first, but then became a songwriter. Rather than sing songs that other people had written, she wanted to make music that she herself could relate to. That's why her songs are very personal; she wanted to "tell a story" and used songwriting and singing to "convey emotion."She says in the film, "I write songs because I'm fucked up in the head, and I need to put it on paper and write a song to it and just feel better about it and have something good out of something bad."

She knew something was wrong with herself. The documentary flashes back to her childhood quite frequently, and it seems as though her self-destruction started at a rather young age. Her mom felt like she "couldn't stand up to [Amy]." Amy would tell her mother, "Oh, Mum, you're so soft with me. I could get away with murder." Her mother admits that she "wasn't strong enough to say 'Stop'" to her daughter. Amy's father had an affair with another woman when Amy was less than two years old, and her parents were separated when she was about nine. That's around the time when she started being rebellious, and Amy was using anti-depressants even as a teenager. Her parents also admitted that they shrugged it off when Amy told them she was bulimic; they didn't take it seriously. (Which is too bad, because she was actually quite pretty when she was more "curvy" and natural.) The film shows how she used writing music and singing to escape her depression that started with her family life and only got worse as she grew older.

The person who was the worst influence on Amy was her on again-off again boyfriend/fiancé/husband, Blake Fielder. He had a YOLO attitude that Amy acquired, and he was the person who introduced her to hard drugs. (She already was using marijuana, and in the film Amy is quoted saying that as soon as she got her record deal and her own money, she moved out of her mother's house so she could "smoke weed all day."). The drug use only got worse when Fielder broke up with her. She lost it: she wasn't cleaning her house, she wasn't eating, and she started drinking excessively. You even hear a voicemail that she left Blake on the phone, saying that she would love him forever until the day she died. Her manager wanted her to go to rehab, but her dad didn't think she needed it, so she didn't go. Her dad said, "We did everything within our power to help Amy. But you can't force treatment on somebody. I felt that was Amy's responsibility to get herself well." That is NOT a good attitude to have when your daughter clearly needs help, but it did inspire her most famous song, "Rehab." See the video below:

After that, her life seemed like a roller coaster. She moved to Miami to work with Salaam Remi, and spent that time writing; she was clean the whole time she was with him. But then she'd go back to using drugs, and at one point her manager and good friend, Nick Shymansky, didn't want to manage her anymore unless she got help. So she got her promoter, Raye Cosbert, to be her manager instead (not the best idea...). Then she lost her grandmother, with whom Amy was very close, so that didn't help things.
Image found here.
But through all of that, she came out with her second album, Back to Black, which was "more accessible" and was less like jazz, which was her favorite genre of music. She didn't really connect to current music, which is why she liked jazz music from the 1930's. Even Salaam Remi says in the film that, when he first heard her sing, it was as if he were listening to a "65-year-old jazz singer." But this more "pop" album really pushed Amy into the lime light. The song "Rehab" was much more mainstream than her jazz stuff, and it was the "pivotal song" which really brought Amy her fame and celebrity. That's when she had to start dealing with paparazzi and the more negative parts of being famous. Amy even said in an interview that she would "top herself" (i.e. kill herself) if she really became famous because it would be "scary." Again, her words are like a premonition for what was to come.
Amy and Blake. Image found here.
She eventually got back together with Blake and they got married; "There was no way we were never going to be together," she said. He was still using drugs, and then both of them were smoking crack all the time. Soon after, Amy overdosed and her family took her to the hospital. The doctors were amazed that she wasn't in a coma because of all the drugs and alcohol in her bloodstream, along with her low body weight.

She was supposed to go America for a tour, but her mom didn't want her to go after this overdose incident (though her father wanted the tour to go on). Amy was supposed to be clean, and she was having regular check-ups with a doctor, but heroine was found in her system during this time. Eventually she did cancel a lot of her shows and went to rehab with Blake (Although Blake didn't really want to go, and a lot of people thought it wasn't a good idea for them to go together). Amy admitted the she didn't "really mind it here" in rehab, but Blake hated it. Once they got out, he went to jail for crimes unrelated to drugs, and then "she spiraled very quickly." She was back to drinking and doing drugs, and her friends and the people she worked with were very worried about her. There seemed to be this back-and-forth between times of when she was clean and when she wasn't. Lucian Grainge even made her sign a contract that she would be clean for the Grammy's in 2008; she had to go to a facility and would not make any new music or perform until she was clean. She did end up winning five Grammys (which she watched from London), but Juliette Ashby, a longtime friend, said that Amy told her, "This [i.e. the Grammys and the party] is so boring without drugs." Success did not take away the pain that Amy had been feeling for so long.

Amy watching the Grammys from a venue in London, shocked that she won. Image found here.

Amy was overwhelmed by the fame and the entire situation. When it came to the awards and being a celebrity, Amy said, "It doesn't mean bollucks." She just unraveled, and the media was not kind; late night TV show hosts were mocking her, she was on the cover of tabloids, etc. To try to escape from that, she went to St. Lucia in 2009, which was one of her favorite places to visit and relax. The documentary shows the clips from St. Lucia in black-and-white, like they were old films. She and her loved ones were there for six months; she didn't do any drugs there, but there was plenty of drinking. However, it wasn't all just relaxing. Amy's father brought a camera crew down there for his own TV show, My Daughter Amy. She was annoyed that he brought cameras there when this was her time to relax and get a break, but even then he let fans get pictures with her and simply didn't respect his daughter's wishes. He just cared about the money, not his own daughter.

It was after that when Blake saw pictures of her with someone else on the beach. He filed for divorce claiming she had cheated on him. He even said on camera for Amy Winehouse: the Untold Story that he didn't need her anymore. And once again, she became a total mess when she lost him. The film shows clips of her performances, and she always has a drink in her hand. She felt like she had to keep performing the same songs even though she didn't want to, and she started to get really wasted as another tour was coming up. A concert in Serbia was part of the tour, and we see her come on stage barefoot. She sits on a speaker, falls to the floor, talks to band members, and pretty much does anything but sing. People were shouting at her to sing, which only made her more petulant and unwilling to perform. She didn't seem to care anymore, and she was sabotaging herself and her career. She cancelled the tour after that.

That's when she had some more time to try to get it together. Three weeks later she was clean and apologized to friends for her behavior. Her friends said it was weird to hear her speak normally, like old times. Amy was lamenting the fact that she couldn't just walk down the street, and how she would give up all the money and fame for some normalcy. The next day, on July 23, 2011, she was found "sleeping" in her place in Camden by her bodyguard. But she wasn't asleep. Her heart had stopped, and the alcohol level in her blood was 45 times higher than the legal driving level.

And I think that's the part of her life that most people know about. Before seeing this documentary, all I knew about Amy Winehouse was that she sang the song "Rehab," did a lot of drugs, and died from some sort of overdose. But this movie lets you see another side of Amy. You get to see the joy she had while recording her songs; you can see how important music was to her. Her pianist, Sam Beste, said that Amy had the most "pure relationship to if it were a person and that she would die for it."And I guess she did.

Amy's final recording was a duet with Tony Bennett, one of her idols. She was nervous and felt like she was wasting his time (again, her modesty), but he was very encouraging. Below is the video:

Tony Bennett described Amy as "one of the truest jazz singers I ever heard...She should be treated like Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday." I am not sure if she will be remembered in the same way as those other women, but I do hope Amy Winehouse is remembered for her tremendous talent.

"She was an artist. She was not cut out to be a star." -- Monte Lipman, Republic Records

PS: I recommend watching the deleted scenes on the DVD. It's more of the same history and insight, but still very interesting. 

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