Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we've had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now.
A documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse, the immensely talented yet doomed songstress. We see her from her teen years, where she already showed her singing abilities, to her finding success and then her downward spiral into alcoholism and drugs.Written by
After watching this film, James Hetfield of Metallica was inspired to write a song called "Moth into Flame". See more »
Amy performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2004. At the time the festival was still in The Hague. (And not -yet- in Rotterdam, as the movie states.) She performed at one of the stages in the basement. See more »
I became aware of Amy in 2004. I'm a big jazz fan and I really liked what she was doing. I thought it was unique, I thought it was edgy. And sincere. And that's the thing I like most about Amy. She didn't have any airs. She was real... She was just a charming, sweet lady. I had a bit of a crush on her, to be honest. She was raw, she was fast with a blue joke, could drink anybody under the table, wasn't afraid to roll a smoke. Had a big, giant laugh, and was just a sweetheart, you know?
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Asif Kapadia's documentary tells a familiar tale of the life and death of Amy Winehouse - a precocious talent from North London with a unique vocal and songwriting talent destroyed by a combination of willful manipulation, drugs and drink. The same could also be said for other great jazz singers of the past, notably Billie Holiday (whose voice often seems eerily similar to Winehouse's).
With the help of childhood friends and archive interviews, Kapadia paints a picture of a Jewish girl growing up in an unstable household. Her father Mitch had an affair when Amy was still a baby, and finally left home when she was eight or nine. Her mother Janis admitted that she was really too weak to keep Amy under control: Amy grew up doing virtually what she wanted with little or no authority to restrain her.
By her teenage years it was clear that Amy had a unique talent for singing and writing songs reflecting her various angst. Signed to a contract by Island Records, she gradually rose to stardom, while keeping her feet on the ground; she was always someone most at home with writing and recording music. Video footage from the period shows her enjoying herself with her companions as they traveled to various gigs. At heart she was a girl wanting to enjoy the experience of growing up and adjusting to the world.
Things only really started going wrong once she crossed the Rubicon from well-known jazz artist into international star. Feted on television in both Britain and the United States, it seemed as if the world was her oyster. Yet it was also evident that she was too much influenced by hangers-on wanting a piece of her. Her husband Blake Fielder, a feckless junkie, introduced her to hard drugs; a succession of ineffectual managers including Monte Lipman failed to shield her from the media; and her father came back into her life as someone more interested in making money than protecting his daughter. Kapadia's film suggests that perhaps her father was most at fault for his daughter's decline; in one sequence he brings a camera-crew to St. Lucia, thereby ruining Amy's attempts to enjoy some kind of peace away from the media.
Amy's troubled life is juxtaposed with performances of her greatest songs, whose lyrics are put on screen as she sings them. It's clear that she wrote from bitter experience; the only way she could make sense of it was to write about it. We get the sense that Amy performed first and foremost for herself.
Her untimely death at the age of twenty-seven remains something of a mystery. From the evidence presented in this film, we are left uncertain as to whether she took her own life or whether she died accidentally. Given the prison-like existence she led for the last five years of her life, culminating in the now-notorious occasion when she failed to perform at a Belgrade concert, it's tempting to think that she had had enough.
Few of her close associates come out with any credit as a result of this film. It's almost as if they wanted to exploit her, and when she died, they ascribed the tragedy to fate rather than admitting responsibility for it. This is especially true of Mitch.
The ending is almost unbearably poignant. It seems such a sad waste of a unique talent. Nonetheless at least we have her musical legacy in the form of her recordings, both live and in the studio.
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