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02nd Jul 2015

REVIEW: ‘Amy’ Shows That It Wasn’t Drugs That Killed Tragic Singer, It Was Greed

*This review contains spoilers*


Amy, the much-anticipated documentary into the life and death of Amy Winehouse, may only be released in Irish cinemas this weekend but it has been caught up in a storm of publicity for months.

It would have been easy for the film to fall into the trap of becoming another overblown soap drama about the perils of the rock and roll lifestyle but a restrained and balanced approach from Senna director Asif Kapadia has resulted in a gripping examination of Amy’s life, underlined by a desperate sadness at the depths to which she fell.

This footage of a frighteningly ill and increasingly lost singer in the latter stages of the movie are all the more tragic when juxtaposed against the bright-eyed and confident teenager we meet at the beginning of Amy.

A beguiling mix of shy and brash, Winehouse’s startling talent was clear from her early years and one of the most interesting parts of the documentary is the candid footage showing her efforts to break into the music business, with manager and childhood friend Nick Shymansky at her side.

Interviews carried out by the singer following the release of debut album Frank are eerily prophetic, with Winehouse saying “I’m not a girl trying to be a star or trying to be anything other than a musician” and “I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous. I don’t think I could handle it. I would probably go mad, do you know what I mean, I would go mad”.

There’s no doubt that Amy’s ill-fated relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, who has been blamed for introducing the singer to hard drugs including cocaine and heroin, had a direct impact on her fate but the footage suggests it was the star’s desperate desire to escape the intrusive celebrity lifestyle that drove her farther into addiction.

Blake Fielder-Civil and singer Amy Winehouse in the audience during the 2007 MTV Europe Music Awards held at the Olympiahalle on November 1, 2007 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Fielder-Civil may have enabled her by supplying drugs but by the time he was incarcerated, her addiction had become a coping mechanism that she didn’t want to live without.

One of the most shocking moments in the film comes when one of her close friends Juliette Ashby reveals that Amy turned to her shortly after being announced as the winner of five Grammy’s and said “this is so boring without drugs”.

Tragically, it’s glaringly obvious from watching Amy that many chances were missed in the early stages of Amy’s drug use to intervene and possibly change her path.

Amy’s mother freely admits that she didn’t know how to discipline her daughter, while father Mitch is accused of being largely absent during her formative years. This lack of a strong role model and guiding influence seems to be a continuing theme throughout her life, with viewers given the impression that at the height of her fame there were few people left who were truly fighting Winehouse’s corner.

LONDON - FEBRUARY 10:  British singer Amy Winehouse sits with her father Mitch as they await news of her Grammy Award at The Riverside Studios for the 50th Grammy Awards ceremony on February 10, 2008 in London, England. Winehouse won 5 out of her 6 nominations including, record of the year, best new artist, song of the year, pop vocal album and female pop vocal performance.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for NARAS)

Amy’s father Mitch has been fiercely critical of the documentary and it’s easy to see why. Having seen his daughter turned from a talented, effervescent star in the making to a frail and exhausted junkie seemingly on the verge of collapse, the documentary suggests that the former taxi driver was more concerned with the welfare of her career than her health.

In one scene, Amy is recuperating privately on St Lucia before Mitch arrives with a film crew to record for a reality television show and the pair later clash when he hassles her to sign autographs for fans on the island.

He and promoter/manager Raye Cosbert are also seen to be pushing Winehouse to continue touring when she is clearly in no position to do so, until ultimately she refused to perform on stage in Belgrade. Considering that she previously gushed about how music was her therapy and saving grace, this is a clear display of someone pushed to their absolute limit.

Amy Winehouse performs live at Kalemegdan Park on June 18, 2011 in Belgrade, Serbia. This was the singer's last live concert performance before her death on July 23, 2011.

Despite this seemingly hopeless outlook, Amy battled to beat her addiction and had been on the road to recovery when she died of alcohol poisoning at her Camden home in 2011.

While input from then-boyfriend Reg Traviss (who was reportedly interviewed by the film’s producers) is conspicuously absent, comments from her bodyguard and childhood friends suggest that she had finally turned a corner and there could have had endless possibilities, both musically and personally, ahead of her.

Instead, Amy lives on only through her musical legacy.

The saddest thing is, it really didn’t need to end this way.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 12:  A view of the black marble headstone that marks the final resting place of Singer Amy Winehouse at Edgwarebury Jewish cemetery on June 12, 2013 in London, England. Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011.  (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)