Amy, the girl behind the name

Going to watch a documentary about Amy Winehouse’s life was never going to be easy, after all we all know the tragic ending. I had a slight feeling of unease as I made my way to the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead to view Asif Kapadia’s highly acclaimed documentary of, this now, iconic singer/songwriter.

We open with home footage of Amy, from around 1998, as she sits doll-eyed and cheeky on a set of stairs with a couple of friends, and sucking on a lollipop. She gets up and sings a breathy Marilyn Munro-esque Happy Birthday to her friend who has just turned 14. Already I feel tears welling up.

Given the relentless media coverage of Amy’s decline before her death, it has been easy to forget she started, like many of us, as a hopeful, naïve and eager teenager with a passion for singing.

Throughout the movie we toggle between homemade movies, news footage, images of her handwritten songs, promotional video, interviews and paparazzi shots. Naturally the underlying musical accompaniment comes from Amy herself. The narration comes from her, in the form of interview extracts or audio clips of voice messages she has left on friend’s phones, as well as interviews with family, friends and industry members.

Given the relentless media coverage of Amy’s decline before her death, it has been easy to forget she started, like many of us, as a hopeful, naïve and eager teenager with a passion for singing. Throughout the movie we toggle between homemade movies, news footage, images of her handwritten songs, promotional video, interviews and paparazzi shots. Naturally the underlying musical accompaniment comes from Amy herself. The narration comes from her, in the form of interview extracts or audio clips of voice messages she has left on friend’s phones, as well as interviews with family, friends and industry members.

Throughout the movie we toggle between homemade movies, news footage, images of her handwritten songs, promotional video, interviews and paparazzi shots. Naturally the underlying musical accompaniment comes from Amy herself. The narration comes from her, in the form of interview extracts or audio clips of voice messages she has left on friend’s phones, as well as interviews with family, friends and industry members.

The film traces Amy’s music career from her signing with 19 Management through to the disastrous 2011 performance in Belgrade. One bit of early footage was taken by her friend, Nick Shymansky, also her manager at the time. In a grungy venue toilet we watch Amy applying her make up before a gig. A scene I am sure many a gigging singer is familiar with. She tells the camera she doesn’t believe she is going to be big or famous, that she wouldn’t be able to handle it; she’d probably go mad. Sadly prophetic.

What I really enjoyed about this documentary was the discovery of the person behind the trademark that became “Amy Winehouse”. Even though we are completely aware that the press will go out of their way to distort or exaggerate the character and personality of any given celebrity, it is still hard not to be influenced by mass media hype. In fairness, as Amy got more and more out of control, the media did not have to exaggerate their reports. Kapadia reminds us that there was a human being, vulnerable and incredibly talented, behind the drug-addicted persona.

During one interview a presenter asks her about the advantages of her success, Amy’s response was that it gave her the freedom to work with whomever she wanted and I believe she was very grateful for her opportunities.

There is an interesting point in the movie where Shymansky states that he felt Amy’s dad was partly responsible for the fact that she did not get the right kind of help at a time when it may have made a difference. Pondering on this one half of me agreed, it was tragic that she did not get this opportunity to confront her problem before it became too difficult, but then I wondered, would she have written Rehab? Would she have gotten as big? Who knows?

It is really hard to conceive what it is like to have the kind of celebrity and notoriety that Amy had. It was very unfortunate that she chose a destructive way to deal with the constant scrutiny of press and fans. One of the label’s reps actually acknowledges that there really is no preparation for this level of success. It is easy to point the finger, as many have done, at Blake Fielder-Civil, her father, her mother and the industry but the reality is that Amy was the only one who could pull herself out of her downward spiral. Unfortunately as often happens when reputations and money are at stake, successful artists don’t always get the kind of support and guidance that they need to overcome their self destructive ways of coping.

I came away from the film feeling I’d gotten to know another side of Amy, that I’d had a privileged peek at the person behind the artist, warts and all. Her sense of humour, modesty, struggles, doubts, joys, passion for music and singing came across strongly. It was fascinating to see the genuine look of shock on Amy’s face when she won five Grammy awards in 2008. We also get some great behind the scenes footage of her singing with Tony Bennett, one of her all-time idols. You can see she is genuinely in awe of him, she botches up the first few takes of the duet because she is so nervous.

I highly recommend singers see this film, not only because it is about a singer who was a true artist, one who totally followed her own musical path; but also to get a sense of the madness that comes with being a celebrity level star. The footage of the frenzied posy of paparazzi constantly on her trail is truly frightening. So many young singers believe that they want fame and celebrity, but Amy’s story shows us this will come at a price and if one is not prepared or surrounded by a supportive and nurturing team, that it can also be destructive.

It is hard to separate where Amy’s creativity ended and craziness started, both were instrumental in providing the world with the extraordinary, heart wrenching, soul searching singer that was, Amy Winehouse.

Amy- Film Trailer


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iSing founder Line, is passionate about creating a place where singers can gain knowledge, skills, advice and support. Something she wishes she had when she first started. In her private practice she helps pro and semipro singers, artists and voice teachers with their voice, performance, mindset and teacher training. Her speciality areas include Performing Arts Medicine, anatomy, health, technique and mindset. She pulls on a wide range of qualifications, experiences and interests to assist her clients to build and develop the knowledge and skills they require for their craft. She is a member of PAVA, PAMA, the MU and Advisor to Vocology In Practice, and a BAST singing teacher trainer.