AMY IN WONDERLAND
It was this year’s Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. Produced in association with Universal Music, her record label, the documentary gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Amy Winehouse’s turbulent life through rare behind-the-scenes footage and interview from her friends, family and colleagues.
I think anyone who watches this documentary will think back to the first time they were introduced to Amy Winehouse. I remember the exact moment when my friend told me about her and that I just had to listen to Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” album. I listened to the songs in order, which is rare thing to do these days but people were still buying CD’s back then. The first song I heard was “Rehab”. I agree that it was catchy and the genre was just up my alley but the dark lyrics, while an intriguing subject matter, certainly didn’t make me laugh. In fact, I might have been the only person that was uncomfortable with the dark humor in this song. Rather, it was another darkly-written song that made me like her, the song following “Rehab,” “You Know I’m No Good”. And yet, my favorite song is “Tears Dry on Their Own”. If you look at the lyrics, it’s quite fitting for her life but in the end she’s the one who walked away.
Amy Winehouse – Tears Dry on Their Own
Upon the release of the film, Amy Winehouse’s family complained that the movie is “misleading and contains some basic untruths.” It was something that certainly gave me pause but I decided that I wanted to watch it anyways. I can see why they would oppose the release of the film because the family is portrayed in an unflattering light. They indulged Amy rather than disciplined her and ignored some of the early warning signs that spiraled into drug addiction that became tabloid fodder.
However, her family aren’t the only ones that’s portrayed negatively. Her ex-husband, Blake Fielder, is partly responsible in that he introduced Amy to heroin. Her friends for not doing enough, or not being able to do enough to stop her. And yes, even us. In the lens of the paparazzi, we all became voyeurs into her catastrophic life. We watched, with raised eyebrows, wondering when the news of her death would come. And then it did, one horrible, tragic summer day in 2011. That’s the most uncomfortable feeling that the film makes you feel. We all knew it was coming and yet, all we could do was watch it happen.
It was interesting to hear from some of her colleagues in the industry, like Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def), Tony Bennett and Salaam Remi talk about Amy, her writing and her music. Whatever she had going on at the time, her tumultuous relationship with Blake and other men, she poured in her music.
However, one of the most telling moments of the film is when she wins the Grammy Awards in 2008. She had just gotten sober and was well-enough to perform live from London, for which she was nominated for Record of the Year. They announcing the other nominees in LA and they get to Justin Timberlake and she mocks the title of his album. A few seconds later, they announce her as the winner and the room goes wild. She is clearly shocked and gives her acceptance speech but then a few minutes later, she loses all enthusiasm for the moment. For her, it wasn’t exciting if she wasn’t getting high.
And I think that somewhat describes Amy, ever since she was a child. She enjoys pushing buttons, whether it’s other people or herself. And yet, she herself hated the spotlight. The doc spotlights a thought-provoking dichotomy within Amy’s personality. It’s most telling when we see her go off to the Caribbean to get away from it all and find some time to heal only to have her dad bring a camera crew and encourage her to take pictures with tourists who are also vacationing there.
There are many factors that contributed to her death. The film doesn’t point fingers towards one person but rather it points the finger at all of us. We all want to shower our favorite celebrities with praise and get to know everything we can about them, all the intimate details, but don’t realize that it may also mean that we’re responsible for backing them into a corner.