Amy Winehouse Died For Our Sins — “Amy”, The Movie

A very provocative and obviously depressing movie, most depressing because all that tawdry shit has become so integral to her media profile, as opposed to her artistry or creative output; provocative as her story becomes a metaphor or myth about the contemporary circumstances of talent, fame and personal sacrifice.

There seems to be many factors in her downfall, and while she herself must ultimately bear responsibility for all of them, the psychological dynamic seen in her relationship with her father and boyfriend Blake says a lot about toxic “outside influences”. But of course, she allowed, if not actively fostered, those relationships.

The key word is “toxic”, the wrong people taking care of her, the combination of drugs, alcohol and bulimia (which I finally recognized is what really killed her) and finally FAME, that most toxic of ingredients. That’s where we ALL bear a little responsibility for Amy’s disintegration, encapsulated by “Rehab” becoming her stand-out number one hit. There is something really off in that circumstance, especially that it was a massive pop hit and then, concurrently, she is viciously dissected in the media for her continuing drug abuse.

In that regard, the huge concert in Belgrade, Serbia at the end of the movie where she is seemingly so inebriated that she can’t perform, or more accurately REFUSES to perform, is quite a brave act on her part — to appear in front of a mob and then refuse to appease them with her awesome talent is in a way a righteous performance. How many pop stars have done that, so thoroughly torn up their fame on stage right in front of a sold-out-to-capacity mob?

It’s also an old story and we can easily line up the names of outstanding performers who have gone down the same self-destructive path, it’s just that with Amy it happened so swiftly and was documented in such detail that it might appear that that is all that is sadly left of her. It would be helpful, or healthy as opposed to toxic, if the film came with “bonus material” in which we simply see one of her outstanding concerts (in fact, there are moments in the movie where the viewer is stopped dead in his/her tracks by Amy’s over-the-top talent — such as simply hearing her sing “Happy Birthday” to a friend at the beginning of the film — when she is 16 y.o.).

Another subtle but noteworthy element of the film is the positioning of Jazz next to Pop and their relative standings in the marketplace. It’s easy to note that Pop Success engenders a whole other level of insanity, an added strata of co-dependent handlers with questionable motivations, a veneer of opulent security, that nevertheless, is like sitting on pins and needles; the potentially fragile identity is relentlessly scrutinized by media vultures. There is a thing such as Success in Jazz, but the stakes, due to the relative marketplace, brings a lower key to the whole affair. Amy could perform at a Jazz venue before 50 rather than 50,000 people. Amy cleans up her act (for a moment) when she has the opportunity to work with “jazz vocalist” Tony Bennett (her hero).

This all brings to mind 3 other performers who have, more or less, straddled that Jazz/Pop distinction with various degrees of success. Sade — who we see has disappeared or given up on stardom and has made statements that support what I say above — the media circus was just too much for her so she decided to withdraw. Norah Jones — who once her first major label record went into the pop chart stratosphere asked her record label if they could simply stop selling it and has since admirably managed a varied and diverse output. And finally, the tragic figure of Judy Garland, perhaps the most apropos cautionary tale that we could compare to the tragedies of Amy Winehouse — a money-generating super star whose drug use was fostered by her management.

Regretfully, we come to understand at the end of the movie, that Winehouse’s next career move would have been to start a “Jazz Super Group” that would have included drummer Questlove and rapper Mos Def. I have no idea if that would have been top-notch, but I sure as hell would have liked to check it out.

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