Almost four years after her death, a new documentary is set for release this summer that attempts to unpick the incredible Amy Winehouse, her monstrous talent and tragic demise. Featuring candid interviews with friends and family, the film, titled simply ‘Amy’, premiered at Cannes Film Festival this week to five-star reviews after months of controversy, with Amy’s father Mitch, allegedly demanding chunks of the movie – in which he’s portrayed as neglectful, at one point following the Camden singer to St Lucia with a camera crew while she’s trying to get clean – be edited out on legal grounds. Like director Asif Kapadia’s last film, racing biopic Senna, it’s a powerfully personal watch, confronting both her destructive, combustive nature and the warm, wise-crackin’ charm that bobbed beneath it. There’s a cruel irony to be found in its reliance on intrusive tabloid footage – one of the film’s threads is about how the British media, who hounded her to obtain said footage, are in part to blame for her downfall – but overall it’s a fantastic and, predictably, devastating portrait of a icon. It hits UK cinemas on 3rd July but in the meantime, here’s 10 things we learned from the film…
She was even more talented than you thought
This may seem like a preposterous statement, but watching her up-close in ‘Amy’ in clips of early recording sessions and in-the-studio takes, it really rams home exactly how much of a once in a generation voice hers was. A recording of her performing ‘Black to Black’ in Mark Ronson’s studio is a spine-tingling enough of a reason to warrant your cinema ticket, and the home video footage of her singing happy birthday at a mates’ 14th birthday suggests her talent that was there from the very beginning. That the film allows her talent to outshine her knack for controversy was a good move by the film-makers. Just try not to get shivers during footage of her performing with an acoustic guitar in the record company office that eventually leads to her first album deal. We dare you.
Her family is not pleased with the film – and understandably so
“It is the usual load of half-truths and distortions by people who were not there,” said Mitch Winehouse of the film. He comes across as an absent, money-driven and occasionally uncompassionate character in the film, and is accused of telling Amy she was fine and didn’t need to go to rehab (when she clearly did) as well as forcing her to do concerts when she was seriously unwell. There was also a moment that drew a grasp from the crowd at the Cannes premiere, in which Amy’s parents are thought to bat off early signs, and admissions, of bulimia.
She slogged away at music and touring
Some of the purest and most endearing footage in the film comes from Amy’s early days, travelling around mid-sized cities in the UK squashed into the back of a hatchback, playing to small amounts of people – many of whom can be heard talking over the performances, indifferently. She may have become a megastar but she did the toilet circuit like everyone else.
She was devilishly funny
You probably knew this already, but man, does this film hammer the point home. There’s a scene in Majorca in which Amy is pretending to be a Spaniard, showing off her home on camera that is wonderfully funny and is the kind of side to people the public rarely gets to see. It’s the daft, silly version of yourself that spills out in front of the people who you feel most comfortable with. And while these moments being presented on film only add to the general lack of privacy Amy has even after death, they are actually crucial in off-setting the manipulated tabloid image of her so many people will forever be stuck with.
Amy didn’t like being compared to Dido
Another instance of her snappy humour comes in the form of a scene with a journalist who keeps banging on and on about Dido and comparing Winehouse’s potential success, and artistic output, to hers. She becomes more bored and apathetic as it goes on and just end up picking her teeth and sighing dramatically as the clueless journalist continues to prattle on about bloody Dido.
The Libertines and Camden were a big influence on her
Camden features almost as a character in the narrative of Amy’s life as depicted in this film. She bought her first flat there and stayed there until she died. Whilst doing press for ‘Back to Black’ she says it was “more influenced by guitar music.” Being in Camden she couldn’t escape it. Pete Doherty turns up in the film to discuss that scene with lovely nostalgia.
She really loved Blake
Former husband Blake doesn’t come out too well in this film, accused by a rehabilitation worker of encouraging Amy’s drug use and of using her money to finance his own addictions. One of the first shots in the film is of a young Blake outside Erol Alkan’s one-time club night, Trash, talking about “pulling birds,” which sets a tone of him being something of a sleaze from the off. The film makes clear, though, how very dear to Amy he was. Some of the handwritten notes unearthed for this film are littered with his name and bubbly love hearts next to them.
She was ready to leave ‘Back to Black’ behind her
Many of Amy’s performances towards the end of her life were filmed, photographed and given scathing write-ups – particularly the ones in which she appeared too drunk to perform. ‘Amy’ however suggests that she was simply eager to move onto new material, and that the only way to get through the monotony of gigs she was allegedly forced into, was booze. It’s revealed she’d rediscovered her love for jazz while working with Tony Bennett and had intended to start work with The Roots’ ?uestlove on a new project, meaning her next material could have composed elements of both jazz and hip-hop.
The Wu Tang Clang could have also influenced her next record
Speaking of hip-hop… In a late night drunken voicemail to her longtime producer, Amy says she had been making lots of “battle raps” with words flowing out of her uncontrollably “like the Wu Tang Clang.” The things that coulda been…
She didn’t give a shit about fame
Early on in the film as a teenager she says that she wouldn’t know how to deal with fame, “I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous,” she falsely predicts early on. “I don’t think I could handle it. I think I’d go mad.” When fame arrives, she called it “bollocks” and “meaningless” and midway through a photo shoot with the controversial photographer Terry Richardson, appears more concerned about trying to get Blake into the toilets for a quickie than about the grandeur of the shoot and what it represented. She constantly reiterates throughout the film “I just want to do music.” ‘Amy’ is a disarming and at times heart-breaking reminder of that.