As you’ve read here before, I have a hard time loving those who sing in someone else’s voice. Amy Winehouse sang in Sarah Vaughn’s and Dinah Washington’s. What made her a lot more notable for me than Janis Joplin, for instance, was that she sang her own songs, songs commonly full of anguish and self-condemnation, with as much feeling as great skill. I’ve just come from seeing the new documentary movie about her, and recommend it with all my might, whether Winehouse’s music meant anything to you or not. No fewer than three times I very nearly burst into tears. One moment had the hair on the back of my neck stand up straight. I can’t remember the last time I saw anything half as powerful.
There are many scenes in which Winehouse’s pain, dread, or shock is written so eloquently on her face that you can hardly believe they’re not re-enactments. You won’t believe your eyes. The great irony is that, without use of a lot of footage shot by paparazzi, the film would be unable to convey how UK paparazzi — even bloodthirstier than their American counterparts — hounded her merceilessly. I’ve heard a hundred rock stars and actors say that they find fame onerous, but never completely believed one until now. And Winehouse doesn’t just bemoan her lack of privacy, but states quite plainly that she’d have traded her gifts for the ability to walk down the street without harassment.
I didn’t leave quibble-less. The film leaves unclear why Amy Winehouse’s scumbag husband Blake Fielder-Civil was imprisoned, and then later shows him as a gloating talking head, telling the interviewer how, because he’s reasonably good-looking and goes to the gym regularly, he figures he can do better than Winehouse. And yet the accounts I find on line portray him as having been devastated by her death.
The audience at the cineplex in West Los Angeles was remarkable for its superannuation. I don’t think there were two people in it under 55. If she’d lived, Winehouse would be 31.
The film wasn’t the only wonderful part of the afternoon. Feeling part of an audience that was being addressed with respect was quite wonderful too. I wanted to see each of the four movies for which previews — in none of which anything other than William F. Buckley blew up — were shown before Amy, the David Foster Wallace one, the Marlon Brando in his own words one, and especially that about the famous television debate between the unspeakable William F. Buckley and one of my personal heroes, Gore Vidal.
A film about David Foster Wallace, the (serious!) author. Sometimes you get the impression there’s some small glimmer of hope after all.