654. Thoughts on the Amy Winehouse documentary

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Last night I saw the film Amy. It’s a documentary about the life of Amy Winehouse, the jazz singer from London who died of alcohol toxicity at the age of 27 years. I knew little about Winehouse before I went, and so what I know about her now is largely what I learned in this film. I learned enough to weep inside at the tragic trajectory of her life. It could have been otherwise given her verve, her voice, her giftedness for music and lyrics. See for yourself, here, in this recorded video with Tony Bennett.

The 2-hour film is nearly exclusively live shots and video from her life. The footage covers it all from the innocent excited moments of her first gig to her spiral downward into drugs and alcohol. Lots of the footage probably came from the paparrazi who relentlessly followed her when she became a superstar, but lots of it also was from her own camera and that of her friends. This is not the Ken Burns effect, where a single picture zooms in and out only to move to the next one. This is the era of selfies and by the film’s end, I couldn’t help but feel as if she was someone I knew even though she was so very different from anyone I know.

Yes, while making her music she made her own terrible choices. But also yes, the adults in her life, with the exception of her paternal grandmother, failed her from the time she was child; her boyfriend-turned-husband manipulated her and pulled her under, even bringing her heroin while she was in rehab; the people who made her albums and planned her tours chose money over her well being; we, the public, laughed at jokes the late-night TV stars told about her and wanted pictures on magazine covers and online of her spiral downward.

Leaving the theater last night and waking up this morning I kept thinking of the writing in Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker about how the creator of a literary work loves the creatures he creates and sometimes must watch them do and become things on the page or on the screen that he had never intended. I kept thinking about the scene in the Gospels where Jesus speaks – and I imagine him choking back tears while he does so – of his beloved Jerusalem, saying how he had longed to gather its children under his wing.