A Trip To The Movies: Review – “Amy” 7.11.15

In what was yet another example of a documentary I walked into with a total clean slate. Having totally been shut myself off from anything deemed “popular music” for the past 15 years or so (a rather deliberate move on my part) I knew little to next to nothing about this new film about the life, work, and career of the late Amy Winehouse. The very little I did know was that she became popular in the early to mid-2000’s, had her fair share of trouble with bouts of drugs and alcohol, and was yet another in a long string of famous musicians who passed away tragically of a substance abuse related death at the tender ripe young age of 27. That and it was directed by the British documentarian Asif Kapadia, whose last documentary about the Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, was one of my favorite documentaries of 2010. Lastly, I love all kinds of music, even despite my comment about popular music, and like most people I have a curious fascination for beloved artists who die tragically young. Mostly because I’m interested in exploring one main central idea – “but why”?

The film opens with one of many fly on the wall, home movies, of a young Amy, singing at the birthday party for one of her friends. It’s one of many intimate scenes layered throughout where the fillmmaker shows archival footage of Ms. Winehouse singing, writing, and recording music. But I’ll go on to talk about that a bit more later. We then follow Amy as she begins to seriously pursue a career in music. Which at about 16 years of age she started rather young. As she begins to get discovered by serious record labels, there’s a pivotal scene which was one of my favorites as it shows a young Amy, 18 at the time, playing impromptu with just a guitar in front of some major label players, and the whole room (including probably everyone in the theater) is just absolutely blown away by her level of talent. One of the spectators sums it up perfectly – “if she sounds this good at 18, could you possibly only imagine what she’ll sound like at 25”. She attains commercial success through her debut album – 2003’s “Frank” which was when she really started to become recognized by the industry at large.Though still kept as sort of a soon to be discovered secret just waiting to take off. it’s during this period that she gets involved in a serious relationship. One of which would involve a man she would fall madly in love with her only to unexpectedly pick up and leave her. This seems to act as major turning point in the film, as she starts to develop a pretty serious dependency with alcohol. her friends, colleagues, and family take notice. And while everyone is pointing towards rehab, the young Winehouse takes her dad’s advice and chooses not to go (which she would go on to write one of her most famous songs about this experience – “Rehab”). Then, three years later at just 21 years of age, she would release the #1 album of the 21st century (so far) 2006’s “Back to Black” which brought her to new heights of international acclaim and worldwide celebrity. Winehouse talks openly and rather candidly in a series of interviews both before and after she reaches this level of success about how she feels about fame, fortune, and her music. As her fame continues to grow and grow and grow, her personal life dismantles and her drinking increases along with being diagnosed as having bulimia. Ultimately and tragically, she succumbs to her own personal demons and well, you know the rest of the story.

“Amy” winds up being one of the most compelling, fascinating, and utterly devastating documentaries that I’ve personally seen of almost any artist this year (one of the members of my meetup.com group called it “the best documentary that he’s ever seen”). This in year where so far, we’ve gotten documentaries about Kurt Cobain (“Montage of Heck”) and Elliott Smith (“Heaven Adores You”). What was different and so interesting about this particularly documentary comparatively speaking in relation to those two. Was the brilliant treatment of the story. As was it one of the most well assembled and constructed documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. Which really speaks to Kapadia as a filmmaker and documentarian. He does a masterful job at creating a comprehensive look at the entire life of an artist, from beginning to end, without following any sort of documentary tropes in nothing in it felt one-sided (one of my major criticisms of the art form itself – take any film by Michael Moore for example). It doesn’t seem to have any sort of “agenda” other than to present the audience with the events that transpired in her life. Another thing worth pointing out was the amazing footage they were able to acquire (apparently it was assembled from over 100 hours of footage). As someone who looks at the advent of technology as the downfall of the human race. I couldn’t help but think here how much would have been lost without it, as much of the film is shown through a series of home movies and interviews that were captured and recorded by whatever the newest technology that was out at the time. So for that I was grateful to be allowed such unprecedented access to Winehouse’s life story. And while although a major part of Winehouse’s story is about her bouts with substance abuse, like the Elliott Smith documentary, it does a great job acknowledging how self destructive it can be. But instead of turning it into some cautionary tale of the horrors of addiction. It simply shows this as simply being “was what it was”. Instead choosing to focus on the music as its focal point. Amy Winehouse was and is without one of if not the greatest singer-songwriters of the post-2000 generation. And even though she died far too young, she left behind a legacy that will continue to influence generations of artists to come.


This Weekend’s Meetup! “Amy” – Sat, 7/11 at 4pm (3:30-3:45 Out Front) at Cin 21

Saturday, Jul 11, 2015, 4:00 PM

Cinema 21
616 NW 21st Ave Portland, OR

8 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

This weekend marks the Portland release date of the new documentary about the career, life, and work of the late singer Amy Winehouse. Opening to incredible praise and positive reviews across the board. This seems like it’s going to be one not to miss! We will meet under the Cinema 21 marquee at 3:30 sharp (though I will wait until 15 mins before s…

Check out this Meetup →

Weekly Roundup DVD Reviews: “Hungry Hearts” and “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (6/8-6-12)

This was yet another film much like the “Seven Five” documentary that piqued my interest mainly because of the comparisons in which it compared itself to as read by the poster’s tagline. “Reminiscent of Hitchcock and the earlier works of Roman Polanski”. Which is a bit of a dubious endorsement indeed, but one in which I found myself drawn to. Anyone that knows me well enough knows that I think of both Hitch’s films of the 1960’s – “Psycho” (1960) and “The Birds” (1963) and Polanski’s 1-2 punch of both “Repulsion” (1965) and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) to be the “birth” of American horror (as was George A Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead”) (1968). So with that in mind I thought if this one lived up to half of the hype that it showed the potential to be, even despite its mostly less than favorable reviews, I almost considered it something just based on that alone to warrant my seeing it.

The film is a “meta-exercise” revolving around Adam Driver’s character falling in love with an actress who I was previously unfamiliar with prior to seeing this film, Alba Rohrwacher, who is really the star of the film even in spite of Driver’s great performance. It’s essentially a piece about mental illness and how the birth of a child’s couple can separate themselves from one another as each seems to have his or her own’s agenda of how it should be raised, in what starts off as a marriage that shows great promise which inevitably unfolds into two people who couldn’t be more different as told through their raising on the child, to a sort of cosmopolitan pseudo-horror film about the natures of inner fears and anxieties that drew a lot of comparisons, at least for me, to the two Polanski films mentioned above. Ti West used a similar structure beautifully in 2009’s “House of the Devil”. And while this film drew many comparisons, particularly to that and especially Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby”, I found it to be unique enough and singular to separate itself from those films. The story and direction by newcomer Italian director Saverio Costanzo should please film buffs and fans of earlier, more psychological horror, more than their contemporary counterparts. It’s greatest strong point (like the early Polanski films) depicting what it’s like to live in a big city (NYC) but one in which a very isolated world or bubble is created in which to protect your children (or in this case child) from. Driver, whom I was mostly unfamiliar despite his work in the past two Noah Baumbach performances puts in a rather performance here as a man on the verge of hysteria as he falls in and out of love with his wife (another great performance by newcomer Rohrwacher), in a film that probably was mostly misunderstood by critics, as it’s a nice companion piece to the psychological family horror films of old. Despite some low production value issues and choppy editing, along with a questionably predictable ending, this is one that’s definitely worth checking out even despite these relatively minor criticisms & somewhat jarring shifts in narrative tone. [soft B]

My second viewing of the week was the highly anticipated “rock-doc” about the life and work of Kurt Cobain – “Montage of Heck”. Admittedly I’ve seen just about every documentary, live concert, or stock interview footage of the late artist up to this point. However, seeing in that it was made and produced by HBO Documentaries and promoted itself as being the quitessential documentary on Cobain. An artist whose work, like legions of fans around the world, I deeply admire. As mentioned in the title of this piece, Kurt Cobain was without question Generation X’s version of John Lennon. Many people don’t realize this but Nirvana was the most successful band in the history of American music. And Cobain was their spokesperson. So to do a comprehensive documentary on an artist of his caliber must have been a daunting task to say the least. Especially considering how the media played such an integral role in how he was viewed and represented in the eyes of the public. So going into it I was a bit apprehensive and skeptical that they could possibly do justice to an artist whose like and work was and has been shrouded in such misrepresentation.

The documentary starts off strong presenting us with Cobain’s childhood in the small town of Aberdeen, Washington. Through a series of interviews we find out quite a bit about his biological mother and father, both of whom I hadn’t really seen speak much of if anything at all about their son Kurt until this film. It does a nice job explaining how his mostly nice upbringing was shattered by his parents’ divorce, and how he never really recuperated from that part of his life. It then quickly skims (one of my critiques of the piece – they show his despair of being a teenager – an outcast if you will, most likely because of family problems, to his jump 5 years later being a guitarist for Nirvana when they were first starting out. I would have liked to have seen more footage from family and close ones who were around for that period about how he even became a musician. Instead of just focusing on the unhappy, rebellious child that the film makes him out to be. It then leaps ahead in its second quarter to show us Nirvana’s giant leap from club act to Geffen signed artists, and the enormous popularity that they earned by their debut album – “Nevermind”. Once we as a viewer understand the international impact that Nirvana had on the scene at the time, which I thought was nicely told, it delves straight into the relationship with Cobain and Courtney Love, lead singer of the rock band Hole. This halfway point basically sums up the rest of the documentary, as the filmmakers place (and understandably so), the impact that Courtney had on Kurt’s life. They were a match made in heaven. Both pissed off artists manifested from the troubles of their youth. Whose goal seemed to be some sort of side show freak show circus act to let the public know how really little of a fuck they thought about them. Becoming slaves to heroin and garnering a lot of negative attention from the press.

It’s about as comprehensive of a documentary as I’ve ever seen into the trails and tribulations of the late Cobain, with a major emphasis on his marriage and child who was born (sadly) addicted to drugs. It also does a great job in depicting Nirvana and Cobain’s rapid rise to fame. While also painting a rather sad, depressing portrait of a man who succumbed to his own personal demons in the end. Which the film takes an unflinching look at while not being afraid to show the dark side of both Kurt and Courtney’s relationship, but also that of Cobain’s tortured soul. Anybody that knows anybody that has an appreciation of music knows how significant Cobain’s contribution was to music. But in the end, despite his undeniable talent, fame, and popularity, really all he was was just another junkie. [B]