Jul 10

Amy Winehouse Documentary: What Went Wrong

When Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning in 2011, worldwide reaction was more weary resignation than surprise. British director Asif Kapadia’s respectful documentary portrait reminds us that the self-destructive London singer was supremely talented, explosively charismatic, but dangerously ill-equipped for the superstar fame that came with her 20-million-selling breakthrough album Back to Black. Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter

Four years ago Amy Winehouse famously became a member of the “27 Club”—joining other talented musicians who died at the same age—and Asif Kopadia‘s documentary Amy reveals much of what had gone wrong in her life.

Basically, says Ella Taylor, NPR: “Booze, drugs, Svengalis galore, rampant co-dependence…”

Adds Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com: “Many of the danger signs were there even before the incendiary element of celebrityhood arrived on the scene: An addictive personality, an often-maddening passive-aggressive nature, an unhealthy appetite for drugs and alcohol, a passion for reckless partying, a weakness for manipulative men, daddy issues that dated from her parents’ break-up when she was a child, lifelong struggles with depression, bulimia and self-doubt.”

An important distinction is pointed out by Clay Cane, BET: “…(T)his is one of the first music docs to chronicle a life of a star who rose to fame during the era of blogs, social media and 24-hour news. Amy Winehouse was brutalized by the media: she was coined ‘Amy Crackhouse,’ shamed for her weight issues and mocked for her addictions. Amy is arguably the first celebrity to be bullied to death by social media.”

Ultimately, says Manohla Dargis, New York Times, everyone who participated in the above were Amy’s enablers:

…Did you laugh, as I did, when you first heard Ms. Winehouse singing ‘Rehab,’ which opens with the lyric ‘They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, ‘No, no, no’ ‘? It’s a catchy song and made her a mint, but I’ll never hear it the same way again after seeing this documentary, mostly because, scene by scene, Mr. Kapadia makes a case for just how desperately unfunny it always was. At times in ‘Amy,’ it seems as if Ms. Winehouse, by living and crashing so publicly, was intent on making the whole world her enabler, even if it’s clear she wasn’t the only addict here. Somebody, after all, buys those tabloids.

Besides the tabloid press, among those who may have failed to help Amy’s mental health issues, according to this film, are her parents, her ex-husband, and her manager Raye Cosbert.

Guy Lodge, Variety, elaborates on the negative contributions of two main enablers:

…[Her father] Mitch Winehouse is presented here as one of two key male influences who inadvertently assisted her decline, with a cavalier attitude to her long-term bulimia and initial denial of her need for addiction treatment.

The other is her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, whose toxic on-off relationship with Winehouse was the driving force behind her double-platinum 2006 sophomore set, ‘Back to Black,’ a crushingly candid breakup album that kicked her global career into touch just as her personal life began to unravel most severely. It was Fielder-Civil who introduced Winehouse — a habitual user of modest narcotics from adolescence — to crack cocaine and heroin…

The film, which is garnering many rave reviews, also features a certain continuous and essential musical thread, i.e., a reminder of the brilliance of her songwriting.

Watch the trailer below:

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: “Amy is alternately thrilling and devastating, throwing you back and forth until the devastation takes over and you spend the last hour watching the most supernaturally gifted vocalist of her generation chase and find oblivion.”