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Amy Winehouse documentary: 'You see a side of Amy that no-one has seen before, she is really cool, funny and intelligent'

Published 30/06/2015

Soul queen: Amy Winehouse was a cultural icon and a huge talent
Soul queen: Amy Winehouse was a cultural icon and a huge talent
Intimate portrait: the documentary captured Amy behind the scenes
Intimate portrait: the documentary captured Amy behind the scenes
Intimate portrait: the documentary captured Amy behind the scenes
Paying tribute: Mitch and Janis Winehouse, standing next to a statue of their late daughter

A new documentary in cinemas this week charting the rise and fall of the singer has met with strong criticism from her family. The film-makers tell Jeananne Craig why they hope it shows the star in a different light.

From paparazzi shots of her stumbling out of pubs, to confessional songs about her turbulent romance, it seemed nothing in Amy Winehouse's life was off-limits.

After the release of her hugely successful 2006 album Back To Black, the London-born singer's rapid rise and tragic fall was played out in the public eye, until her death from alcohol poisoning less than five years later, aged just 27.

Now, four years on, a new documentary revisits Winehouse's life - her ascent to fame and subsequent drug and drink-addled decline - in order to, in the words of its director Asif Kapadia, "understand why things panned out the way they did, and to try to show the real Amy".

The film, entitled Amy, features previously unseen footage of the singer and interviews with those closest to her, including her former husband Blake Fielder-Civil and Winehouse's father, Mitch, who has since claimed the film-makers portrayed him unfairly.

Here, Kapadia (who previously directed Bafta-winning documentary Senna, about the late Brazilian racing star Ayrton Senna), producer James Gay-Rees and editor Chris King explain why they felt there was more explore.

STARTING OUT

The documentary-makers spent two years interviewing Winehouse's family and friends, as well as sifting through archive footage and early home videos, which showed the star as a clever, witty and incredibly talented young woman.

"When we found pre-fame Amy and the footage of her, got that insight and heard the stories, you can't help but fall in love with her a little bit," says Gay-Rees.

Kapadia adds: "In the first section of the film, you see a side of her that no one has really; I don't know anyone who has seen that person before. She is really cool, really funny, really intelligent, and really bright-eyed, and so I felt that our main objective was to give her a new interpretation - for people to see her in another way. Then maybe think about their own part in what happened to her later on."

LYRICAL GIFTS

Winehouse's intensely personal lyrics have a key role in the film, and appear on screen throughout.

"She was very autobiographical, and speaking to her first manager Nick Shymansky, he said that she kept journals and she scribbled poetry. He felt it could almost be a Bollywood film because the songs move the narrative on," says King.

"Keeping her lyrics, keeping her words, her voice in answerphone recordings and Skype conversations, let her tell the story through her work and through her own thoughts and voice and poetry. That became central to the vision we had."

LESSONS LEARNED?

The documentary depicts a number of missed chances for the Rehab singer to tackle her demons, as well as giving us an understanding of the pressure she was under personally and professionally, and the level of attention she received wherever she went.

"You are never going to change the behaviour of mass media with one film," says Gay-Rees. "But given that it was fairly obvious to everyone present at the time that this was a girl who was seriously in trouble, I think that the next time it happens, if it ever happens again, people will do the second thing that comes into their head, rather than the first thing, which is to write a headline. Hopefully, they will think about that person more before they pummel them."

CONTROVERSY

In a statement, the Winehouse family - who had initially given their blessing to the film - said the documentary was "a missed opportunity to celebrate Amy's life and talent", and that it is "both misleading and contains some basic untruths".

In interviews, Mitch Winehouse has objected to his depiction as an "absent father" and claimed some of his words were unfairly edited out.

"We tried to just make the most honest film that we possibly could. We spoke to a lot of people, over 100 people, we've seen a lot of footage and the finished film is honestly cut down from everything we heard and everything we saw," says Kapadia, when asked about Mitch's comments.

"If in doubt, you just go back to her own songs, because she said everything already in (them).

"So it may be uncomfortable for certain people, but this all went on, this all happened, and I think at some point, people need to look at the decisions they made, which were going on when Amy wasn't particularly well."

AMY'S LEGACY

"It's very heartening that those people who have seen the film seem to come out with an enormous new appreciation about just how talented she was, because you learn that through watching it," says King.

"Tony Bennett (who recorded with Winehouse shortly before her death) puts her up there with Billie Holiday, and some of the jazz greats.

"But when you see the relationship between her music, her writing and her life, you see just how truly brilliant she really was.

"She was witty, funny, deep, honest, and you can't help but to be bowled over by that.

"I think her legacy will be as an icon of British culture who we let slip between our fingers."

Amy will be in cinemas from this Friday

'Club' that has claimed so many

The age of 27 has proved to be pivotal for many of the world's most famous musicians and performers who have lost their lives to drink and drug addictions, enlisting them into a tragic hall of fame, known as the 27 Club.

Amy Winehouse became part of that club on July 23, 2011 when she passed away from alcohol poisoning after a very public battle with addiction.

Former Rolling Stone Brian Jones, legendary guitarist/singer, Jimi Hendrix, singer Janis Joplin and Doors frontman Jim Morrison all died aged 27 between 1969 and 1971, but it was after the death of Nirvana singer/songwriter, Kurt Cobain, over 20 years later that the term 27 Club was formed.

Comments made by Cobain's mother on his death solidified the idea of a 'club'.

She said: "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club." Although she never clarified what the club was, many commentators have claimed it was the 27 Club.

Other musicians who have lost their lives at this age, but not necessarily to drink or drugs, include: l Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas was killed in a traffic collision on June 14, 1989 l Gary Thain, the former bassist with Uriah Heap, died of a heroin overdose on December 8, 1975 l Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers disappeared on February 1, 1995 and was presumed dead on November 23, 2008 l One of the founding members and keyboardist of the Grateful Dead, Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan passed away on March 8, 1973 of a gastrointestinal haemorrhage l The Drifters vocalist Rudy Lewis lost his life to an overdose on May 20, 1964.

Belfast Telegraph

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