she’s never heard it before, Amy Winehouse smiles a nervous, surprised
smile as she finishes recording Back to Black.
a bit sad at the end, innit?” she says. As is Amy, sad at the end,
inevitable, given Winehouse’s fame, her tortured genius, her
sensitivity, her self-destructive impulses, her errant love. We know the
story. We know it too well.
at that moment, when she catches herself crying that attenuated dying
fall, “black… black… black”, surprised by her own fate, the gap
that opens in her self, when she is not quite that self, but also
another, allows us to glimpse the flicker of the dialectic, a chance of
a different ending. It didn’t have to be like that.
is Asif Kapadia’s follow-up hisshock hit Senna (rather than Ayrton, he
being a bloke and a racing driver, I suppose). Like Senna, it’s a
montage of existing footage. Along with voiceovers from Winehouse’s
friends, family and colleagues, it’s all stitched together in a
familiar narrative, the tragic trajectory of the suffering artist.
see much of Winehouse before she was famous, when she was ordinary, if a
little boisterous and attention-seeking. But even at 15 she was bulimic
and didn’t keep a secret of it, telling her mum she’d discovered a
brilliant new way of dieting. Her mum ignored it, hoping it would go
was a symptom of someone seeking control, trying to write the narrative
of themselves, a common problem that in the hothouse of the pop world
where Winehouse found herself, or rather lost herself, warped into
something sensational and terrible.
songs stuck uncomfortably close to the truth, truth in the sense of the
actual stuff that happened to her, or at least the stuff revealed by
Amy. This is supposed to be therapeutic, a way of distancing yourself
from the bad things that do your head in. But Winehouse’s songs seemed
to dog her. Great songs, of course, but a little too literal, and in the
distorting mirror room of the media they reflected back on her in a kind
of feedback loop.
and drugs were an obvious escape route, a way for Winehouse to get away
from the pressures on her but also, in a curious way, self-affirming
against the attempts of others to define her. Of course, her drunkenness
is appropriated and joked about cruelly - Amy the Inebriate Woman –
but psychoactive substances are a way of taking control by deliberately
giving up control.
one of her periods of sobriety, she tells a friend “it’s so boring
without drugs”. When we’ve got over our shock it might be an idea to
try and understand what “boring” might mean here.
Bennett, who we see working on a duet with her, seemed too much in awe
of Winehouse’s talent to give her any advice. Had he done so, he tells
us, he would have told her that“life will tell you how to live it, if
you live long enough”.
were no shortcuts. She just had to hang in there, somehow. As Brian
Beach Boy is the subject of another musical biopic Love & Mercy,
which I would prescribe as a cheery antidote to the frankly depressing
Amy.In short, it’s the old tale of Beach Boy meets girl, Beach Boy
loses girl, Beach Boy finds girl again.
see young Wilson (Paul Dano) struggling to conceive his vision for the
ground-breaking Pet Sounds album against the pressures of a pop industry
that just wants more of the same to sell, interspersed with old Wilson
(John Cusack) struggling for independence against tyrannical,
overmedicating shrink DrEugene Landy(the excellent Paul Giamatti).
rescued to sing again by glamorous Melinda Ledbetter from the car
showroom(Elizabeth Banks), and it all makes for a funny, uplifting story
with some delightfully obvious symbolism.
when young Wilson is trying to get the other Beach Boys to join him in
the deep end of the pool and, in case you didn’t get it, one of them
declares “we’re too shallow”. Or when old Wilson has locked
himself in a recording studio for a tryst with Melinda and Landy appears
menacingly behind the mixing desk to order him to “come into the
wonderful stuff and you come out whistling the tunes, even while
Winehouse is crying somewhere deeper inside your head.
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