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Movie Review: “Amy”

Jul 032015
 By , July 3, 2015

Amy Winehouse

“Amy” – a film review by Gary Chew

I would never want Tony Bennett to stop singing, but the legendary crooner surely could be a Dr. Phil, as great as Tony sings “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” Why? Well, here’s an ad lib Tony drops in the new documentary by Asif Kapadia titled Amy.

Amy Winehouse “Life teaches you how to live … if you can live long enough to live it.” Tragically, Tony said that after Amy Winehouse had succumbed to all the wealth, fame, booze and drugs that shattered her short life.

How many famous names are on an “Amy Winehouse” list … Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin … sadly the list goes on and on and on.

Don’t let me turn you away from Amy though. It’s way worth more than the price of your ticket. The woman was a true music star with a striking face that Cleopatra would have surely coveted. Amy’s zest for life, songwriting and music outshine dozens of other well-known and lesser-known entertainers.

Amy Winehouse might possibly be the most photographed and filmed person to so far have walked the planet. Her father even brings cameramen to an island on which Amy has retreated in order to shake off fans and paparazzi. The actual footage I saw of Mr. Winehouse reminded me some of Brian Wilson’s manager (played by Paul Giamatti) in the current Beach Boys biopic, Love and Mercy.

Amy WinehouseBesides Amy’s legacy of recordings, there appears to be film, video and still pictures of this tragic figure that would, if laid end to end, run longer than Gone with the Wind and War and Peace sans intermissions. Several actual moments in her life have been caught to show her wading through a huge herd of paparazzi. The flashes from all the cameras nearly create a continuous blinding light as Amy and her entourage make their way through the ironical dark side of fame.

Kapadia is an adroit documentarian. Not only are his visuals put together in an inventive display, but he shows commitment to solid communication with his audience by repeating (in subtitles) the English spoken in the wild sound conversation of Amy with those around her, as well as the lyrics of her songs when you see her singing them … or as a graphic overlay with other actions to drive home the words she has written. The “drive” of her words sometimes “screams” what’s going on in her life and how, if at all, she’s trying to cope.

Amy WinehouseAmy’s recording session with Bennett is one to file away and look at every once in a while. For me, it’s sort of like … suddenly hearing Billie Holiday start to sing on my radio.

Oh, I’ve been listening to Amy Winehouse sing some of her songs as I write this. Most of them are in a minor key.

I wouldn’t suggest you see Amy and Love and Mercy in one fell swoop like my friend who went with me to see the Winehouse documentary. But you really should take in this picture about a late, great woman who’s name will always mean “Beloved.”

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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