Capturing Amy Winehouse’s Musical Legacy

Darragh McNally

The life and tragic death of late jazz icon Amy Winehouse is to be immortalized for the second time in Amy Winehouse – Back To Black, due to be released in November by independent Canadian studio Eagle Vision. The film aims to capture the recording and post-release period of the singer’s final album in her lifetime, but to only focus on the production of the album could prove detrimental to the documentary’s impact. To succeed as a true Amy Winehouse biopic, the forthcoming film has a lot of ground to cover.

Amy was born in September 1983 to Mitch and Janis Winehouse, in Camden, London. She was born into a practising Jewish family, and even at a young age, her rebellious nature was present. Later in life, she described how she would beg her father not to send her to Sunday school, and that she would only go to the synagogue once a year on Yom Kippur “out of obligation”. She was born into a lineage of jazz musicians, and this legacy was a massive inspiration throughout her career.

In her late teens, Winehouse met producer Salaam Remi and began work on her debut album Frank, released in October 2003. The jazz album was positively received critically and commercially, and lead single “Stronger Than Me” won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song in 2004. In the production of its follow-up, Amy became interested in the girl groups of the 1950s and 1960s, and this influenced its sound and aesthetic at large. Back To Black was released in October 2006, receiving critical and commercial acclaim. The album is intimately personal, immaculately written and produced, and a modern classic. It was the best-selling album in the UK in 2007 and led to a meteoric rise to superstardom for Amy.

After strings of successful performances and a world tour, Winehouse’s alcohol and drug addiction began to catch up with her. Her final solo performance was on the June 18th, 2011 on the first stop of a new tour in Belgrade. The singer was reportedly unsteady on her feet, unable to remember lyrics and her bands’ names, and she was booed off the stage due to being too drunk to perform.

Amy died on July 23rd, 2011 in her residence in London. An autopsy ruled that she had drank five times the legal driving limit of alcohol, and thus, died of alcohol poisoning. A compilation album of new songs and unreleased demos, Lioness: Hidden Treasures¸ was released that December.

The first attempt to immortalize Amy’s life in film was 2015’s critically-acclaimed Amy, directed by Asif Kapadia. The film is a beautiful but often distressing account of an immense talent, who’s life was tragically cut short by alcohol addiction. It perfectly captured the kind yet blunt nature of the singer, and the deep relationships she had with her father, and close friends and producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi. It captured her early upbringing in Camden, her rise to superstardom, and the tragic fall from grace that followed in a poignant but very respectful manner.

In conclusion, in order to make a good Amy Winehouse biopic, one must capture the life of a blunt, talented woman, wise beyond her years, whose talent was often held back by an eating disorder, and an addiction to alcohol and hard drugs. The makers of Amy Winehouse: Back To Black have their work cut out for them.


Darragh McNally

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