Amy Winehouse’s Death Still Haunts

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Amy DocumentaryBy the time Amy Winehouse rose to fame, her tragic end already seemed inevitable. The ruined performances, her jailed partner in drug abuse – hell, even the title of her biggest hit, “Rehab” – all foreshadowed her joining rock’s “27 Club.” Her short, harrowing saga was a brief ride that only rarely detoured from its path toward train wreck.

Amy – which captured the Academy Award for Best Documentary and a Grammy for Best Music Film – opened on July 3, 2015, in New York and Los Angeles with some the best ever first-day numbers for a documentary film. It gives its subject the kind of up-close and respectful treatment accorded Kurt Cobain – another member of the 27 Club – in Montage of Heck. Unlike Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and other Club members, Kurt and Amy came of age in an era of self-documentation. It’s almost shocking how much material there is, and the filmmakers say they deliberately left out the most graphic. It’s clear what that was, and a relief that it was omitted.

What they left in is plenty dark and painful, but fortunately punctuated by some happy surprises: Amy as a 14 year old hanging out with friends. (They would later cut her out of their lives when her self-destructive actions became unbearable.) Amy getting clean after her despicable husband is jailed. Amy in a brief healthy relationship. Amy recording with her idol, Tony Bennett.

Those brief detours make the ruinous end even more heartbreaking. Here is a uniquely talented singer, a combination of Janis Joplin (yet another 27 Club member) and Billie Holiday in ways remarkably right and oh so wrong. Like Lady Gaga, Queen Latifah and others, Amy could have moved between rock, pop and jazz at will, excelling in all. But her self-destructive combination of bulimia and drug and alcohol abuse has lost the world yet another artistic evolution.

The film is a deft pastiche of footage ranging in quality from cell phone to high def. This revealing material is woven together brilliantly, and with seamless sound quality that must have taken some intense behind-the-scenes effort.

The footage often illustrates Amy’s lyrics, which in turn capture her life experiences. There’s no hiding behind metaphors: her lyrics tell her life experiences and emotions straightforwardly and in painful detail. Any gaps are filled in by interview subjects – the movie’s two bad guys, her husband and father, both of whom exploited her to shocking degrees; her family, friends and managers, who provided photos, footage and illuminating perspective; and her peers, including a thoughtful Tony Bennett and a moving Yasiin Bey.

The director’s decision to use only the audio from these interviews works well. Between the footage and photos from Amy’s personal life, concert and in-studio performances, newscasts and paparazzi photos, and from superimposed lyrics, it’s a lot to take in. We are left exhausted, grieving and disgusted, haunted by what ifs.

Winehouse was born September 14, 1983. She died on July 23, 2011.

Related: Our look at some of the Grammy Awards’ Best New Artist winners and losers

Laura Huntt Foti

2 Comments so far

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  1. Mike L
    #1 Mike L 24 July, 2017, 03:43

    Such a tragedy losing Amy! I must see the documentary. She really paved the way for the whole classic soul/R&B scene going on today. Damn what could have been if she’d gotten clean. The 27 club is marked with so many greats leaving this world and Amy is certainly one of the greats!

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    • Stephanie
      Stephanie 24 July, 2021, 18:41

      I truly was left exhausted, grieving, and disgusted, haunted by what ifs. Amy’s father and mother were horrid, and they first created the way their daughter lived her life. I recently read that another documentary is coming soon. This one is from her father’s perspective. Please, please – isn’t there anyone who could expose what will certainly be his lies and tell the world how his mental abuses contributed to Amy’s membership in the “27 Club” until all he (and his wife) had left was to steal all of her money!

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