Monday, July 27, 2015

First Impressions of the Documentary Film Amy

Last night went to see Amy, the tragic story of Amy Winehouse, whose light burned out in 2011.

If you're from my generation ("Talkin' 'bout my generation") you can't watch this film without remembering the sudden early departures of Janis, Jimi, Brian Jones and Jim Morrison.

When I first heard about this film being made I thought, "Who's going to play Amy Winehouse?" I didn't then know it was a documentary. Unlike generations past, we live in an age of video cameras and digital movies that capture far more of our lives than ever in history, and with painstaking effort director Asif Kapadia pieced all these pieces together into a coherent overview of her short and tragic life.

There were many thoughts this film stimulated. First, the consequences of fame, especially on young artists who become megastars. Dylan survived it by means of a motorcycle crash that led to a break from touring for several years and enabled him to re-center. At 74 he is still going strong.

I once read an interview with Malcolm McDowell in which he stated that an actor's career has three stages, and that stars don't always transition well from youth to middle age to elder statesman. The same can no doubt be said for performing artists. What would have come next for James Dean, Marilyn, Kurt Cobain?

Second, what an incredible talent Amy Winehouse was. If you were not familiar with her incredible voice before, then you'll be somewhat amazed at what she was able to do with those vocal chords. Yes, she is worthy of being compared to the great ones, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. And it was something she was quite serious about at a very early age. Her interest in jazz came first, hence her real fame in the broader pop world was a relatively short time frame. She'd been riffing in clubs for many years beforehand.

Third, there seemed to be an inevitability in the story that made the film haunting. Of course this was a self-destruction that was being played out on a very public stage, and we all knew the film's end from the beginning. But it seemed that everyone around her could see it and one wonders how no one was able to stop it.

The broken home and pain from her childhood is another common denominator in the self-destructing superstar stories. Kurt Cobain's anger stemmed from that poisoned fount. But you don't have to be famous to self-destruct. That's an epidemic all too pervasive in our current culture.

Winehouse was a unique talent, both a gifted singer and songwriter. She pushed the boundaries and got swallowed in the chaos that became her life. It's not a film for everyone, though instructive and insightful for anyone who goes.

1 comment:

M. Denise C. said...

Thanks for that review, Ed. I like the painting, too.