Screened Out – Amy

By : Stephen Miller
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Documentary directed by Asif Kapadia

The very moment that voice emerges, it’s clear we’ve lost something special. Even with her overplayed song “Rehab”– even with tabloids dissecting every self-destructive act – there was always that amazing vocal talent.

Amy – a documentary directed by Asif Kapadia – starts with home footage of Winehouse at 14, singing “Happy Birthday” for a friend. Even though Winehouse is goofing around, there’s an unmistakable spark there.

Kapadia does a brilliant job sifting through the seemingly unlimited supply of footage. (There must have been months and months of stuff!) The volume of material is no wonder; Winehouse was raised in the media age. Her family and friends feature prominently the early data. Like all Millennials, Winehouse and her buddies shot everything – parties, small fights, her early rise to fame, arguments with parents, and a couple moments of recreational drug use.

Even at an early age, the precocious Winehouse was dreaming of performing.

Even at an early age, the precocious Winehouse was dreaming of performing.

The later footage comes from the paparazzi and media outlets that stalked the singer’s every move. Ignoring her talent for her crash-and-burn lifestyle, the media seemed to catch every relationship squabble, every drugged-out performance, every small victory, every embarrassed stumble home late at night, every triumphant accolade, and every failed and ironic trip to rehab to get clean.

“They tried to make me go to rehab, and I said ‘No no no,’” Winehouse sings in her most famous song. Yet, it seems that the only peace the woman ever had might just have been in those facilities.

Winehouse saw herself as a humble, small-time jazz singer. She never wanted fame; in fact, she predicted her own demise if it did come. Her behavior is easy to compare to jazz great Billie Holliday.

Amy does not quite take to task Winehouse’s father, who used his daughter’s fame to launch a reality TV show. It shows Mitchell Winehouse bumbling around, trying to make watchable television, while making things worse for his daughter. Winehouse famously sings, “My daddy thinks I’m fine.” Sure, he does, dear, because you’re his cash cow.

With two full-length films, Asif Kapadia is quickly becoming a well-known documentarian.

With two full-length films, Asif Kapadia is quickly becoming a well-known documentarian.

In fact, the family and friends all dislike this documentary. They’ve disliked every other one, too; maybe it’s guilty conscience.

Yet, Kapadia does a great job not specifically blaming the family. He also doesn’t point fingers at Blake Fielder-Civil, the drug addict to whom Winehouse was briefly married. There is an inherent self-loathing in Winehouse’s actions, and she was overwhelmed by paparazzi. However, Kapadia never tries to find the “magic bullet” that brought her down. He piles on each and every influence -good (Tony Bennett) and bad (most everyone else around her).

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The film does make a few great choices and one weird one. Besides eschewing blame, Kapadia doesn’t feel the need to tell things in strict chronological order; this works. However, he also superimposes animations of the lyrics over every performance, as if we couldn’t understand what Winehouse was singing. (In some less-than-stellar Amy moments, this is necessary, but the film doesn’t choose those moments.) It does, however, let us understand how her every lyric was very personal.

Winehouse only left us with two full albums and some side projects to contemplate what else she could’ve given. That sense of beautiful loss never leaves Amy.

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