Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NXNE Film Review - Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story

Amy Winehouse's life had certain inevitability to it from the first time she burst onto the scene. She was surrounded by a series of enablers and hangers on that unfortunately included her closest relatives. A weak support network mixed with a bad self-image plus a close analysis of the lyrics  show the observer where the talented artist was headed. Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story tells the tale of a brief life through a series of interviews, first had accounts of the events and home videos supplied by family and friends. The documentary starts off in and around the release of her first album Frank.  The home videos that focus on the main people in Amy's life at the time seem somewhat eerie when she sings songs inspired by those events. The lyrical element is crystalized especially due to Director Asif Kapadia's device of displaying the lyrics on screen as Winehouse delivers them.  At this point Amy appears to be at her happiest being a pure jazz musician playing clubs and festivals. It's during one of these early interviews that she makes the comment on how she could not handle it if she truly became a famous public figure.

Kapadia who had earlier success with his documentary on Ayrton Senna does not attempt to influence the narrative but lets the footage and interviews play out as they will. He speaks to Amy's long time friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, her first manager turned close friend Nick Shymansky, ex- husband Blake Fielder and later professional influences that clearly did not have the singer's best interest at heart. The most curious subject is her father Mitch Winehouse who Amy would have listened to if he said she was in a bad way and needed help. But clearly he did not do fuelling her addiction by making Amy thing that she was fine. The debate amongst family, friends and her manager plus her dad's stance served as the foundation of her biggest hit Rehab.

When the feature turns to Amy's childhood we see a happy outgoing child that was full of joy and energy. This all changed when her parents divorced when she was 9 leading Amy to soon realize that her mother could not control her and she could smoke weed, bring boys over and do whatever she wanted. A circumstance that is shocking similar to the account of another tortured artist, member of the notorious 27 club and subject of a current documentary. Kurt Cobain's parents also divorced when he was 9 shattering his happy childhood. In an audition for a record label at 16 we see a healthy girl who succulently states that the music on the radio today does not speak to her.  She writes her own songs plays guitar and sings with the voice of a jazz / blues singer from the 20's. Her artists aren't on Top of the Pops but rather the classics sung by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.

The subject matter on the screen is often hard to watch. Her two best friends tell the incident of how they found her unconscious on the floor in a tropical resort apartment after a long distance lovers quarrel with Blake. Another of her held up in her Camden North London flat with Fielder grotesquely abusing heroin that eventually landed her in hospital and him in jail. On top of the alcohol and drug abuse she was destroying her inner organs through episodes of bulimia dating back to her teens. A subject that her family members viewed as a running joke or as her dad Mitch commented was not a big deal. Another foreshadowing sequence is her satellite performance from London during the 2008 Grammy awards when she won Record of the year. It's an occasion when Amy is sober and should be a highlight but in a quite moment after the win all she can think of is that the moment is boring because she is not on drugs. Lastly, the topper is promoter turned Manager Raye Cosbert's 2011 Belgrade Festival booking. Winehouse was enjoying a good period before the event, had to binge drink to get on the plane, appeared completely smashed on stage, refused to sing and was eventually booed off the stage.

Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story is at a time where a sad tragic tale of a great voice that was taken from the world too soon. The chaos and additions peppered thorough her family, business and personal relationships set the singer on a path that would only end one way. There were certain points and opportunities for people close to her to help her avoid her impending fate but the really distressing point may be that without the factors in her life her music may not have been as rich and powerful.  As Amy stated early on in her career that she won't right a song unless it was personal.  It's a documentary exploration that I highly recommend.

4 Out of 4.

Amy | Asif Kapadia | U.K |  2015 | 128 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary , Biography, Voice, Musician, Old Soul, Father/Daughter, Camden, Grammy, Heroin, Bulimia, Rehab, 27 Club.

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