Often removing the existence of the individual behind the art in order to extract the marketable product, the entertainment industry has long been known to take advantage of personal talent for commercial gain. Such has been the reality of the industry for decades, though in the promise of the 21st century, such stories, unfortunately, became commonplace. One of the most tragic victims of the exploits of the entertainment industry was the late Amy Winehouse, who rose to prominence in 2003 before her untimely death in 2011 at the young age of 27.
Having recently remembered the tenth anniversary of the tragic loss of the extraordinary performer, Asif Kapadia’s touching account of her life in the 2015 documentary, Amy, remains a definitive text that sensitively breaks down the life of an icon. A genuine purveyor of musical soul, Kapadia rightly prefers to focus on her lesser-known uprising, the story of a humble singer finding success from the most unlikely beginnings rather than her public demise.
Finding fame at the age of 20, Amy Winehouse was just a young girl at her inception into the industry, still holding the same simple dreams and ambitions as her peers, pursuing love and an outlet for her creativity. With genuine talent and purity to her spirit, American singer Tony Bennett described Winehouse as “one of the truest jazz singers I ever heard” in the documentary.
Enjoying early success, Amy Winehouse released the follow-up to her maiden album Frank, Back to Black, in 2006, winning British Female Solo Artist at the 2007 Brits along with Song of the Year at the 50th Grammy Awards in 2008. Her burgeoning fame was not treated with careful nurture; it was a craving, however, with the media treating her success as a commercial opportunity.
“I think the more people see of me, the more they’ll realise that all I’m good for is making tunes. So leave me alone and I’ll do it,” Winehouse comments in the film, a plea by the artist that unfortunately goes unheeded. As the glare of modern media and press began to bombard her everyday existence, attempting to force her into a commercial commodity, Winehouse simply couldn’t handle the incessant growls of their shadow, resorting to drugs to escape the baying pressures.
What results from Asif Kapadia’s fascinating documentary is a tragic parable illustrating the greed and treachery of the modern entertainment industry as Amy Winehouse is exploited as a product of commercialism rather than an actual individual. Her story is heartbreaking as it spirals out of control, though her demise is never sensationalised and instead is well contextualised in the sociological study, detailing the disgrace of modern consumerist culture, which rejects art in favour of a profitable star.
An exemplary piece of documentary filmmaking, Amy is a damning indictment of the incessant nature of contemporary media whilst detailing the incomparable life of a singer, sensitively memorialised.