Amy, Channel 4, 9pm., directed by Asif Kapadia 2015

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A documentary with only a first name tells you a lot. In marketing terms it says you should know who this person is, someone with a unique selling point. Amy Winehouse died in 2011, her memory fading, but there’s lots of images in this dramatic retelling of her life and loves, and they are not of the Princess Diana variety of burning candles and flickering flames. No less that jazz great Tony Bennett, who we see working with Amy here, said ‘she had a considerable gift’ and compared her voice favourably with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday.

This is a cut and paste job of Amy’s early life before she found fame, mostly grainy footage from hand-held cameras. We learn her father left her mum for another woman when Amy was twelve or thirteen. Prior to that she was a boisterous child, difficult to control. Afterwards, Amy did what Amy did and nobody was going to stop her.  Later there is added footage and more polished and pixelated images of Amy crashing and burning in a time frame that spans thirteen years. Amy cracked the American market open like an egg. She was so well known that jokes about her disintegration were told by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. She was an easy target for Frankie Boyle this side of the Atlantic. And even national treasure and nice boy comedians such as Graham Norton describe daily filmed doses and images of  her ‘as like a mad woman’. Take away the like and you’ve captured Amy, but you couldn’t hold her. Nobody could hold her.

In one of the early clips of Amy on the Jonathan Ross Show he described her as one of us. Opinionated, working class, and that bit more gobby than most. She knew what she wanted and liked. Watch her face, and here her snort, as one interviewer tries to compare her with contemporary chart-singer Dido. There’s a certain irony in that. Dido with an extensive property portfolio is one of the richest ‘singer/songwriters’ in Britain. That could have been Amy you may think, but only if you came from planet Zarcon.

Dido is Barbie. Amy with her Ashkenazi phenotype looks like Edward Munch’s The Scream, but with long swept back hair that grows bigger and wilder as she grows smaller and her success sweeps her away.  Amy writes on her body with tattoos.  She boasts to the camera that she has carved her boyfriend, and later husband, Blake’s name onto her stomach with a slither of glass being used as a prop for a photo-shoot in some trendy warehouse in New York. It’s the initial break up with Blake that prompts her to write and record her second album Back to Black. Words and feelings and torn from her body and projected into something bigger, something in her voice that resonates and catches you unaware.

There are lots of users in this profile of Amy. Certainly you’ve got the press swarming around her like midges. Media frenzy doesn’t quite cover it. Phone tapping. The press systematically stalked her, seemed to know everything she did, and said, one of her friends complained. Near the end of her life Amy told a friend she’d give it all up, all the fame and fortune, just to be able to walk down the street again. Bit clichéd. But Amy was too honest for her own good. You could never, for example, imagine her investing her millions in property. She invested in heroin, crack cocaine, speed and a drug pharmacopeia. She didn’t believe in moderation. When Blake left her and went back to his first girlfriend she admitted to texting and phoning him non-stop. Loud music and drugs. You wouldn’t want to live anywhere near Amy if you wanted a quiet life.  Amy won Blake back.

We see them endlessly canoodling in America. In a restaurant Blake stares at the camera and laughs and says ‘I’ve no money. Who’s paying?’ He looks behind him towards Amy and the camera follows his gaze. ‘Amy’s paying,’ he says. Amy pays for everything. Later, he explains, without any sense of irony. ‘I’m a good looking guy, I go to the gym. Look at the state of her.’

Her dad makes a lucrative career out of his daughter. In one poignant scene he berates Amy for letting her fans down by refusing to be photographed with a young couple that had asked to be photographed with her, even though she’d already stood between them and allowed them their shot of pseudo-stardom. Amy turns to her dad and says ‘if it was money you want I’d have given you it’. She’s making the point, he’d brought a film crew and sound man with him while she was meant to be on holiday recovering from drugs.

She never did recover from drugs. Blake took the rap when police busted down her door and found their stash. He went to prison. She just went and bought more drugs. Or she substituted drugs in general for alcohol. I laughed when she was taken to hospital and was something like 27 times over the legal-driving limit. Most folk I know drink sensibly and stay between five and ten times over the legal-driving limit, unless driving a mobility scooter, where thirteen or fourteen times, or being sick in a lay by, is advisable. But I guess when Amy is picking up award after award and admits ‘this is so boring without drugs’ the prognosis for abstinence is not good. Her heart was massive, but blew up. I guess that’s the nature of the beast. I liked her.

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