“Amy,” the new documentary directed by Asif Kapadia about the death spiral of jazz singer Amy Winehouse, has a familiar theme: the hounding of a famous young woman, her drug addictions, her path to self-destruction. It also has another familiar twist: a group of people who know she has a problem but do little to stop it.
Yet “Amy” has one twist that has caused quite a ruckus in Britain. It shows a manipulative father, whom she idolized, who takes advantage of his daughter in a shocking way. When Amy finally stays off of drugs and finds a safe haven in St. Lucia for several weeks, her father shows up with a camera crew in tow and interrupts what might have been a saving period in her life.
As you might imagine, Winehouse’s family has raised quite a stink about the portrayal of the father back in Britain, so its arrival in Cannes comes with lots of controversy.
To which I say: Good. We see the father show up in St. Lucia, and it’s rather revolting. No one is disputing that he did what he did. I suspect they just want more context to justify his actions. Sorry, but I can’t imagine any context that would serve as justification.
The movie starts, of course, with home videos of Amy as a teenager, jokingly singing and not really considering a life in music. But she gets discovered and eventually lands a contract. Everyone is familiar with her songs, which get prominent treatment in the documentary (and if this movie’s soundtrack is ever released, it should be quite a seller). Everyone is also familiar with her indulgence in drugs, but the documentary makes clear that she was introduced to crack cocaine by her former boyfriend and, eventually, her former husband, famously referred to at the Grammys as “Blake, Incarcerated.”
Along with the father, he comes off as a complete jerk. But as Winehouse’s songs made clear, we often hurt the ones we love.
At different points in the movie, it’s clear that Winehouse has to take matters into her own hands — that no one can save her if she doesn’t want to be saved, and isn’t willing to save herself.
But the documentary also makes a clear case that she tried to save herself — and that others saw her as a money train and pushed her into contracts, concerts and situations that exacerbated her self-destructive tendencies.
The most touching moments come when she sobers up and has a series of recording sessions with her idol, Tony Bennett, who says she’s a once-in-a-generation jazz talent. And some of the most wonderful footage features Winehouse concerts that most of us have never seen.
All in all, this is one documentary that no jazz fan will want to miss. Like many such tales, however, it’s awfully tragic and sad.