“Amy” hit the theatres in the summer of 2015, bringing to life the celebrated Amy Winehouse and chronicling her untimely end. Ms Winehouse joined the 27 club (members include Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and more) as a result of acute alcohol poisoning. The responsibility, then, of selecting the soundtrack to accompany the film is one of gargantuan proportions.
Sadly, we have been let down. Any casual listener might say that a film about Amy Winehouse, a musician (to say the least), should feature music by Amy Winehouse. And how right that novice would have been. Unfortunately that is not the case. The soundtrack for “Amy” features B-sides, eleven of them to be precise, and original score, again numbering eleven. Jutting out like a sore thumb is one hip hop track, thereby outnumbering Ms Winehouse in the film about her own life.
The reasons behind this is something we will never know; Ms Winehouse’s career spanning from the age of 16 to her death at 27 leaves no dearth of material, official or otherwise. Certainly there are demo tracks and unreleased mixes left for the filmmakers to choose from; the only track in the soundtrack that is “new” is a live recording of “We’re Still Friends” from 2006, performed at Union Chapel. A cursory visit to one of the countless music forums or message boards would have revealed plenty more; the artist’s fanbase is still very much active and engaged in sharing heretofore unheard tracks and music.
The film footage is mostly from amateur and other rough sources, thereby revealing a side of Ms Winehouse not refracted through the prism of a public relations team. The soundtrack, however, is the opposite; there is absolutely no trace of any raw audio in here. It is clear that the music has been compiled with the express purpose of playing second fiddle to the film’s plot, a decision that is positively overflowing with irony when the film itself is about a talented musician meeting a premature demise. You can frequently see Ms Winehouse singing in the actual film, and the cuts from scene to scene gives it a powerful narrative thrust; you can barely make out even the presence of a background score.
The comparison between the film and the soundtrack is important; every task that the film excels at, the soundtrack fails. The documentary is paced perfectly, making the need of interludes non-existent. And whenever you do hear the score, it feels like an unwarranted intrusion that is totally out of context and unrelated to Ms Winehouse’s considerable oeuvre.
Song selection is on point though, perhaps as a result of the filmmakers focusing more on the lyrical content of Ms Winehouse’s creations than the embodying music. Songs that were inspired by scenes from her own life play en pointe at the right moments. “Rehab”, “Back to Black” and “Tears Dry on Their Own” are metaphors for her drug use, and the film portrays both Ms Winehouse’s life and her music with surprising sensitivity and regard.
But in the age of an absolute lack of privacy and instant sensationalisation, this feels woefully inadequate. Paparazzi frequently slept outside Ms Winehouse’s home and photos of her crack pipe were splashed across tabloid media. In this sense, there is nothing “new” in this album at all. Nothing is private in the age of YouTube and veritable supercomputers disguised as phones in our pockets. Fans of Ms Winehouse will find no redeeming content in the soundtrack as they might in the film. The soundtrack features album versions of many of her songs, which pale in comparison to the impact of seeing an unguarded Ms Winehouse putting on makeup in front of the bathroom mirror, or watching her sing Happy Birthday at a friend’s place.
Ultimately though, the album bearing her name does the artist injustice. “Amy” the film offers a sensitive look into the tragic life of a gifted musician. “Amy” the album offers a not so flattering look into the economic realities of Hollywood and the disregard for the emotional connection of many fans to their idol by diminishing a storied legacy. It is, frankly, an insult to Ms Winehouse and her fans.
As always though, we music purists definitely prefer to listen to a record on vinyl than any digital formats; technical pros and cons aside, it is just a different experience listening to music the way it’s meant to be listened.