Last night I went to see Amy, the documentary about the life of Amy Winehouse. I want to get what I hated about the film out of the way because I really enjoyed the film but absolutely hated some of the editing to a point where it really detracted from the overall experience. I felt that the film presented itself as a found footage documentary. I would expect a film about Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald to look much the same, and that was really appropriate. However, at points where they wanted it to look a little bit more Hollywood maybe, or parts where they just had no footage to go on they would use these ridiculous polished zooms to illustrate movement from one place to another and it just clashed so hard with the rest of the film.
I was also not a fan of the use of text on screen during the singing sequences. I don’t feel like it’s not nice to underestimate your audience and assume that they’re not capable of listening or understanding that they’re supposed to be paying attention to lyrics at this moment in time. The thing is, if you give us nothing to look at, we know we’re meant to listen. Silence can be really important sometimes, or a lack of image can be important too. Seeing the images of Amy’s handwriting overlaid with her singing the final lyrics was really interesting and beautiful and made the text on screen look like a 2002 windows movie maker video in comparison.
Questionable editing choices aside, the film was exactly as heartbreaking as I’d expected it to be. There were two huge nuggets of sadness left in my throat the end of it. The first was how often people around her failed her in the smallest and the biggest ways. I had no idea that Amy had bulimia, I was in high school during the height of her popularity so those kind of details could slip by me real easy. “I have this great diet” she told her parents. “I just eat whatever I want and then later I bring it all back up.” They both just passed it off as her being funny, like so many people would. Tragic. I felt a strange, bitter mix of pity and resentment for her father and at some point I just wished I could kick Blake in the teeth. “After this treatment by my wife for the past two years I didn’t think very much of myself but I’m a big man, I’m handsome” made me really want to kick him in the teeth. I think the phrase “I’m a big man” just makes my stomach acid boil. The way that Blake stayed with his girlfriend during Amy’s quiet fame and then came to her when she could pay for anything he could ever want; we’re given footage deliberately chosen to make us hate him and it’s very easy to do. Her father also, turning up to her retreat in St Lucia with cameras and sound crew when she just wanted her daddy. So many let downs.
The other big, gritty piece of sadness left in me at the end was the realisation that we, her fans, we’re also very complicit in her misery. This film leaves the viewer a great sense of guilt. We are shown mobile phone footage of the giant show in Belgrade where Amy simply refuses to sing. “Look at her, she’s drunk she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing” says someone in the crowd. We all did it. Look at her, she’s smashed she’s off her face she doesn’t know what she’s doing she’s such a fool she looks a mess she’s off her face. We all said it, we all made jokes and rolled our eyes when she was on the news. We were all willing participants in her misery.
One scene that really stuck with me after leaving the cinema was when Amy’s Grammy award win was announced by Tony Bennett and she pulled her best friend to the side of the stage and said “this is all so boring without drugs.” I felt my whole body drop. Pageantry, awards and fame were never of any interest to her. She just wanted to make music and all the other stuff around it was just stuff. Stuff she hated and found boring and drowned herself in drugs and booze to cope with.
“Boy I can sing!” She says to her bodyguard. “If I could give it all back just to walk down the street with no hassle…I would.”