Even if you didn’t know the smiling, dark-haired youth singing “Happy Birthday” in a grainy home movie was the legendary Amy Winehouse, you’d sense the child was destined for something great.
At only 14, the youth has charisma, commands the camera’s attention, and sings the simple song in her signature smoky contralto with artful ease. The short video features in a new film, Amy, that attempts to salvage some of the singer’s dignity, lost as she succumbed to bulimia, depression, and alcohol at the end of her short life.
“She was a really strong woman, this amazing personality who had an awful reputation and whose humanity got lost along the way,” director Asif Kapadia told Entertainment Weekly. “It became a mission to make a film that does right by her.”
There are several versions of Amy’s story — the one the public saw, the side Kapadia is trying to present, and the version her family insists is the truth.
In the public eye, Winehouse was a mess, and over time, her image unfortunately hasn’t improved. Asif said that “through the tabloids, her life became a joke.” The Independent described her as a “frail tragic singer whose musical talents were eclipsed by alcohol and drugs,” and is often recalled as a skinny, self-destructive junkie with a wild beehive.
In the second half of Amy, the director explores this downward spiral, which he claims was facilitated not just by friends and media, but her family, Rolling Stone added.
But the film also attempts to capture a little-known, redemptive side to Winehouse; this profile dominates the first half. In it, Kapadia shows Amy as a “creative, intelligent, funny human being,” a self-empowered, strong young woman with lots of attitude.
“So it was really a case of re-balancing the way people perceived her by showing the young, fun, happy, bright-eyed healthy girl that she used to be, who was just amazing. You think it would have been nice to have met her, she would have been fun to hang out with.”
Sadly, Winehouse was also a “sensitive soul” who “sometimes loved too much,” and didn’t have the confidence to deal with her problems.
To build a film that equally portrays Winehouse’s tragic struggles, which culminated in her death at only 27 of alcohol poisoning, the director talked to Amy’s friends, managers, ex-lovers, collaborators, and her ex-husband. Asif never got the approval of her family, however, due to his portrayal of Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse.
Amy shows how the singer’s depression and bulimia began when her parents’ divorced when she was age 8, contends her mother wasn’t affectionate and her father wasn’t around, while acknowledging the pair did have a loving relationship.
Winehouse’s family doesn’t offer an alternate story, but assert that the film is “both misleading and contains some basic untruths.” Amy’s boyfriend at the time of her death, Reg Traviss, had the most damning comments, however. He called the film distorted and determined to portray a specific story, which required some manipulation by the director.
But the film — which opens nationwide later this month — is meant to give the tragic singer the dignity she lacked at the end of her life, Kapadia said.
“Generally, people had a negative opinion of Amy Winehouse. She was a joke. Now people see the film and they’re changing their tune.”
[Photo Courtesy Dan Kitwood / Getty Images]