Sunday, August 9, 2015

We Only Said Goodbye With Words

Amy in her element, beautiful and in charge. 
Last week, I went to see the much talked about documentary on the recently departed Amy Winehouse, simply titled AMY. Directed by esteemed documentarian Asif Kapadia, I was really hesitant and also extremely excited. To tell a story like Amy's is something usually reserved for a VH1 Behind the Music special. But with docs taking center stage of late and Kurt Cobain: A Montage of Heck being hailed as one of the best retrospectives on the icon ever, I was optimistic that it would be more than just the rise and fall of a shooting star that gave us so much and left us too soon. 
I didn't want the cheap force-crying tricks that come with documenting a story of a troubled yet vastly talented public figure whom we uncover as having a self-destructive streak peppered with personal demons blah blah blah...blah. No, it's not that at all. Kapadia painted a portrait of Amy as something more than just a girl gifted from the universe with one of the most unique voices and a self-destructive streak that rivals Cobain's. This was a new breed of documentary. It was simply put, the story of one's life, it just so happens that it was tragic story, and the life was that of a public figure. I don't remember the last time I cried at a movie much less cried throughout, and I'm not exaggerating. Every time Amy sang in archival footage I was bawling to the point where people around me were side-eyeing me to death. I didn't care. I was hit right in the gut with this one. 

Younger and healthier Amy, always writing, always making music. 
There are two ways to tell Amy's story; both of them cop outs. Amy the singer or Amy the addict. This was neither of these. Of course you can't have a documentary without either of those elements, but more than anything else, this was Amy the girl. And though it was told through many people close to her; her manager, her father (the scumbag), her ex-husband (the even bigger scumbag), her best friend, and others as well as through her own words, the most powerful way her story is told is through her songs. We all bought 'Back to Black' upon release in 2007, but hearing those very familiar songs again in this context was a flooring experience. I don't think I'll ever be able to listen to the album the same way again. 

Amy with then-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, whom many blame for Amy's rapid deterioration. I don't disagree, there were a lot of people that were not only bad influences but were leeches basically in her life, and he was definitely predominantly the worst one.  
I did some research (well, barely the minimum on Google) but turns out, just a month into the film's release, it's already one of the most successful documentaries ever released, it's almost hit the mark that An Inconvenient Truth is at, and it's no surprise. Here's the thing, and this is why I keep comparing her to Cobain (who also recently had a doc that came out about him). She was incredibly public. Her ups and downs (mostly downs) were splattered across front pages like we've never seen. Second to Britney Spears she was probably followed, chased, and photographed more than anyone else. We saw her with her eye make up smeared all over her face, with blood on her neck, with torn up shoes, we even saw her with drugs in her hands, and we always saw her drink. This was someone not trying to conceal anything, and yet this was someone who (as the documentary says) was trying to disappear. And we wouldn't let her. 
It's one of those 'we all know what happens in the end' films, but who cares? Like anything else, we still crave answers as to why, and the beauty of this documentary is that it doesn't give you answers. It gives you the circumstances and lets you figure it out for your damn self, because it treats you like a smart person who can put shit together on their own. 

Beautiful portrait of Amy utilized for marketing of the documentary.
We all knew where we were July 23rd, 2011 (I was in an Apple store getting my phone screen fixed jebus), and it's not like the world would never be the same after that. We kind of all expected it. Amy was a time-bomb. It wasn't a crushing blow like the death of Robin Williams, or even Whitney Houston. We don't want to admit it but during her life, we all kind of thought; well someone that is THAT self-destructive is not going to last long and she didn't publicly show any signs of getting better, in fact her condition deteriorated. I'd like to think she was more like Edie Sedgwick than any rock god in the '27 club'. She's a person we were and still are absolutely fascinated with, and we all wanted a piece of her. She died quietly when her demons finally got the better of her, and who knows what she would have been capable of later in life had it not been cut off so abruptly. I think her idol; Tony Bennett put it best in the doc when he said; 'If I could, I would tell her 'slow down, you are too important'. I couldn't even write that without welling up (full disclosure). When you hopefully go in to watch the film after reading this blog post, know that it's not the story of someone's personal or professional life, although that's part of the content. It's about the music she gifted us with, and the soul from whence it came (god that sounds pretentious). Amy herself put it best; 'I'm not a girl trying to be a star...I'm just a girl who sings'. Playing now, please see it. And please have a good cry. 

Below, trailer, and some clips of her. 

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