Memento mori depicts sad decline with elegance

PA Photo/Altitude

PA Photo/Altitude

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With her distinctive beehive, thick eyeliner and deep, soulful vocals, Amy Winehouse became a defiantly outspoken icon for a generation.

Born and raised in Southgate, north London, she drew inspiration from the music of Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett, and exorcised personal demons through her songwriting, encapsulating experiences of heartache, abandonment and despair in her raw lyrics.

‘My destructive side has grown a mile wide/And I question myself again,’ she laments prophetically in the song What Is It About Men on her debut album, Frank.

Scarred by the separation of her parents, Winehouse concealed an eating disorder from those closest to her and repeatedly sought personal oblivion in a cocktail of alcohol and drugs.

Her death in July 2011, at the same age as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, sparked a period of national soul-searching.

Asif Kapadia’s deeply moving documentary charts the turbulent life of the songbird, including contributions from many of her friends and family, and people who worked with her and were touched by her fragility and candour.

The film doesn’t pull punches with its depiction of her battles with drug and alcohol addiction, posing difficult questions about the culpability of the media and some of her inner circle in her tragic downfall

Unfolding largely in chronological order, Amy begins with home video footage of a good friend’s 14th birthday and meticulously charts her rise to celebrity, incorporating performances, interviews, photographs and reminiscences of the people who knew her well.

‘If I really thought I was famous, I’d top myself,’ Winehouse tells one journalist early in the film.

Her words cast a shadow over subsequent scenes of triumph as Frank leaves critics reaching for superlatives and she storms America with the follow-up Back To Black, earning five Grammy awards including Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year.

The film doesn’t pull punches with its depiction of her battles with drug and alcohol addiction, posing difficult questions about the culpability of the media and some of her inner circle in her tragic downfall.

Through Kapadia’s lens, her father Mitchell shoulders some of that blame, firstly by advising Winehouse not to go into rehab - ‘I felt that’s Amy’s responsibility to get herself well,’ he offers by way of an explanation - and then by gatecrashing her recuperation in St Lucia with a reality TV crew to bolster his media profile.

Her husband Blake Fielder-Civil is depicted as a similarly destructive influence, including footage of them together in the flat when she first tries crack cocaine.

‘I tried to sabotage myself and she tried to sabotage herself. Maybe that was our natures,’ he confesses.

Relationships with Alex Clare and Reg Traviss, which book-ended her roller coaster marriage, warrant only brief mentions but Kapadia would need longer than 127 minutes to delve into every personal tie.

As it is, his elegantly composed memento mori leaves us with a deep sense of sadness and anger as we watch the singer totter towards oblivion, seemingly with no-one to shepherd her away from the edge.

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