Saturday, August 1, 2015

Amy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Amy" by director Asif Kapadia (Senna) constructs a stirring and melancholy portrait of the bluesy singer Amy Winehouse who died at 27.

The film, taking a cue from some recent examinations of Kurt Cobain, shows Winehouse frequently in her own words with home movies and recorded video, some of it done covertly it would seem.

This gives the content a nervous and raw feeling that many documentaries lack.

We soon get the feeling that we are along for a jittery, sensitive and often uncomfortable ride, but one that is never boring and builds in apprehension.

We first see Winehouse as a young girl singing with her friend  Juliette and Lauren at a birthday party. Even in this beginning segment, Winehouse is a surprise. A teenager with a voice like Shirley Bassey. She sings at small venues and attracts the attention of famous British producer Simon Fuller. Winehouse was kept as an industry secret but earned a contract with Island Records and formed a harmonious relationship with the spontaneous and risky hip hop producer Salaam Remi.

As the initial voltage of fame hits Winehouse, the tattoos on her arms increase along with her glib tongue and musical prowess.

Despite her youth, she doesn't suffer fools gladly and never holds back.

With her wide eyes, Sharpie lined in black, and red lips, Winehouse looks like a rockabilly version of a WAVE, as if drawn by Betty Boop creator Max Fleischer with a voice of smoke and muslin. Her persona was split in two. On one hand, Amy is the good girl, a dedicated performer, angelic, vulnerable and charming. But on the other, she is serpentine and uncouth, lusty with a pinup sensuality, a siren of broken glass.

We see her beau and fiancé, Blake, who has an aura of actor Malcolm McDowell, alternately love her and cast her aside. He goes to prison to see Amy at the height of her fame in the arms of another man.

Ultimately we see Winehouse under a fragile  light, uncompromisingly wearing her dark makeup which resemble shady quarter notes around her eyes. No matter what, she is driven to give and perform through song.

Through all the rocks and wretchings , Tony Bennett, the iconic cool cat in gray knows her core spirit. To him, Winehouse is a parallel to Ella Fitzgerald.

 When the two collaborate together, her eyes light up in a cat's dazzle.

In later segments, we realize with sadness that this gifted chanteuse is caught and can't escape. The camera moves around her with the hectic motion of a housefly and with a shock we see her tongue turn green from narcotics.

It is hard not to see a bit of a villain in her father who is criticized for pushing himself upon her and telling her that rehab is unnecessary. In truth, Winehouse is squelched by a legion of controlling forces: producers, a father, and a feckless and constricting  boyfriend, all held together by a music industry that sought to turn her into a saucy cartoon penned with inky lines and rough edges.

What arises in "Amy" (regarding the person and the film)  is more poignant. An innocent and nervous young girl is embarrassed by her fame and lusts to sing her cimmerian melodies in private.

Winehouse is a kind of mascara comet held between worlds: one of them contains the gimlet eye of commercialism and hijinks, while the other embodies the curvaceous leap of artful jazz and Sarah Vaughan.

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