Film Reviews

VIEWTIFUL DRE – <i>Amy</i> (2015)

VIEWTIFUL DRE – Amy (2015)

Andre Cole

July 11th, 2015


Going into Amy, I had essentially zero knowledge of Amy Winehouse as a person or artist, knowing only of her song “Rehab” and that she died in 2011. By the time I left the theater, I had developed a respect for Winehouse as an artist and found myself wondering what could have been. This documentary takes on Winehouse’s career, beginning with her creating her first demos as teenager, through her struggles at home, her rise to stardom, and addiction — all leading to her truly tragic death.

The filmmakers use footage from home video, news, and television to build the documentary. Each of these provide a different look at Winehouse that reinforces her statement that she does not want to be famous. Pairing this footage with audio clips of her parents, close friends, her first manager and friend Nick Shymansky, and industry friends like Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) invests each clip with a great deal of emotion as they recall what it was like to be there with Amy through her highs and her lows.

While watching Amy, I kept thinking of the recent documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Winehouse and Cobain with their disdain for the fame they achieved. Early in the film, Winehouse says “I don’t think I could handle [being famous].” Winehouse and Cobain turn to drugs as a coping mechanism, as well as being members of the 27 Club — a curiously large group of musicians who all died at that age. Both films illustrate the parental figures as inadequate, with Amy painting the bleaker picture. Winehouse’s mother Janis comes across as a woman in over her head with her rebellious daughter and her siblings, while Mitchell (Amy’s father) shirks nearly every responsibility he is capable of yet still manages to pull himself along on his daughter’s purse strings. Of course what “gone-to-soon” artist’s life isn’t complete without the romance of questionable character? Blake Fielder is the Courtney Love to Winehouse’s Cobain, with her being so madly in love with him that it debilitates her at times.

Winehouse’s voice sent chills through my body multiple times, as videos of her live performances played, often times captured on personal camcorders in small personal venues. That seems appropriate, as small and personal is where Winehouse comes across as most comfortable in the home videos that are shown throughout the film. Her goofy personality shines in the early parts of the documentary, when she is just beginning her career . The raw emotion of her performances plays best in the early parts of the film prior to her widespread success and performances at music festivals and award shows. The film uses Winehouse’s music to highlight specific moments or feelings in her life. Because her lyrics are so personal, the audience can really feel the emotion as Winehouse sings after stories of failed romances. Presumably, this also gives fans insight into the origins of these early songs.

In the end, Amy ends up being another “taken before their time” tale, one both fans of Amy Winehouse or music in general will be able to appreciate. The way the pressure of being in the public spotlight eats away at Winehouse can be seen from beginning to end despite how badly she wanted no part of it. Of course, the media isn’t the only group that the film places responsibility on, with her family and the people working closest to her coming across as complicit in allowing Winehouse to go on her downward spiral.

If small and personal is where Winehouse feels most human, then the scenes where she feels most alien are those where she is in the public eye. Constantly hounded by paparazzi, Winehouse can barely walk out her front door without the incessant flashing of cameras following her down the street or to her car. Playing festivals across Europe to crowds of thousands of people, Amy puts up some of the weakest performances of her career, and it’s evident in the film. Winehouse wants so desperately to not be famous that she seems almost in denial at times. Even after winning awards for her music, she says that she doesn’t think she is famous, and that people should just leave her alone so she can make her music. But that’s not how celebrities are treated in today’s age.

Andre Cole is a junior at the University of Oregon, pursuing a degree in public relations. He likes to divide his time between video games, movies, and friends, sometimes combining all three. Viewtiful Dre is an irregular column in which he provides critical analysis of films screening locally.

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