My daddy thinks I’m fine: the tragedy of ‘Amy’

How we’re all implicated in the loss of Amy Winehouse

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: “Amy” features clips, images and interviews examining the life of vocalist Amy Winehouse; Rating: R, Grade: A

“I ain’t got the time, and if my daddy thinks I’m fine…”

That line from Amy Winehouse’s breakthrough single, “Rehab,” says so much because it becomes her way out of going to rehab for a drug problem that apparently everyone close to her saw but could do nothing to prevent. Listening to the song now, it all seems so obvious, and maybe the song itself was her way of crying out for help. Think about it—“Rehab,” like every other song on Winehouse’s second collection, Back to Black, scored with audiences thanks to the raw, confessional tone the singer-songwriter copped to on each track. If she were a criminal in the box, and we were the detectives ready to ask questions, then she was the Mirandized songbird, fearlessly confessing to every crime in the book because she had committed each and every one—and, truth be told, she wasn’t feeling all that guilty about it either.

Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy” lays out the background of her life, sets the stage for this posthumous confession and is a remarkable story, especially in how it is told to us. Amy Winehouse speaks to us, so often, and—more importantly—we have the chance to see her, the young working-class Jewish girl with that voice, such a powerful instrument of heartfelt and deeply lived blues and brazen sensuality. But what we (in particular, American audiences) might not have been aware of is that Winehouse was an oddly self-aware poet with a feel for the guitar. She wasn’t an expert with an axe, but she knew how to wield it, to complement that voice of hers.

Yet, it was Mark Ronson’s Motown-inspired girl group production on Back to Black that provided the perfect backdrop for Winehouse’s genre-blurring delivery—husky blue notes, jazzy dance around the beats and boldly defiant around-the-way girl swagger—winning her critical and commercial appreciation across the modern musical spectrum. The demo versions of some of those hits offer undeniable proof that Winehouse could take these disparate elements and reconfigure them in her head in different settings, like elements of her personality.

Problems arose, though, when fame took her attention away from her rich and carefully composed musical persona—the place where she tells us onscreen, “The more people see of me, the more they’ll realize the only thing I’m good for is making music”—and stranded her on some distant shore, far from her closest friends, the people who were with her when it all started and music was the only thing that mattered.

It is difficult to listen to her songs now. The lyrics have a prescience that, in 20/20 hindsight renders the tragedy a melancholic bend that feels like the forward spill into oblivion where the tears might never run dry. And the music videos that remain, much like this film, match that tone beat for beat. “Amy” allows us to see, truly see, Winehouse in a stunning collection of images and clips that span her entire life, while we hear from the people in her life as they try to narrate her epic fall.

Every one of them struggles with some personal blame for what happened to her, save, seemingly, her father Mitch (who comes across as the man most culpable outside Winehouse herself), and by the end, the truly empathic in the audience will take on some responsibility, as well. We all watched, unable to turn away, and “Amy” makes us do so again and again, without letting us off the hook.

If only we could say, “[She] left no time to regret,” as she did about her lover on title track “Back to Black.” But Winehouse needed more time.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at terrencetodd.wordpress.com.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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