Amy is a portrait of the wrong person in the right place; of someone who got everything they never wanted and saw everyone else’s dreams come true. It’s heartbreaking, intimate, and a truly affecting depiction of the terrifying effect that fame can have on a person. Amy Winehouse is at once the brash rockstar and the sixteen-year old with bad teeth and zits, and it’s hard to deny that the foregone conclusion of her life lurks in ominous tones in the background of every shot. She’s the queen of the world and a deer in the headlights–a girl who, when up for her third Grammy of the night, gets choked up at the fact that Tony Bennett–yes, that Tony Bennett, Dad!–is the one introducing her. She stares at the feed from Los Angeles, wide-eyed, with the kind of adoration that Catholics reserve for the Pope. He says her name, and it’s as if she reacts not to the fact that she won one of the biggest awards but to the fact that it was him who said her name, said it loud, said it with such pride and admiration.
And then, five minutes later, she’s ushering a friend offstage and whispering in her ear: “You know, this just isn’t as much fun without the drugs.”
As someone who never was a fan of Winehouse during her short life, Amy struck me much less as a worshipful biodoc and more as an attempt to capture a force of nature. From the early, grainy home videos of Amy shot during the last days of VHS, it’s clear that this is a common girl destined for something entirely uncommon. There’s a magnetism about her, an unkind magnetism–she’s someone completely unhinged and detached from the mores of what a personality is supposed to be in the media age and yet quiet and humble when it comes to her actual art. It’s a push and a pull, an alternating current of love and disgust that could never be anything other than utterly, breathtakingly beautiful.
The glass breaks. The banter and interviews stop. The last days of video give way to the first day of cell phone cameras. The world becomes pixelated, noisy. The camera flashes, horrific in their intensity and frequency, never stop. We want back into the world of that smiling girl, playing pool with her first boyfriend, but that world is long gone. She’s not the same–her Monroe piercing thrown in the trash, a series of ever-growing tattoos covering her skin. She alternates: thin, healthy; beautiful, skeletal; bruised, bashful. The mockery of morning show hosts stings us more than it does her, a bewildered shell of her former self who has long since disconnected from the chore of saving face. When the subtitles stop proclaiming the month and start announcing the date, we know that we’re living on borrowed time. And even when the gurney covered in maroon is lifted into the ambulance van, there’s still a part of us that wants to believe that it’s not her that’s in there, but some other girl, some girl that we haven’t grown so close to.
But, of course, it isn’t some other girl, and we were never close to her. We were merely skyward gazers, bound to Earth, watching the light of a star that burned out millions of years ago.