Let’s start w/ Film Noir, and the jazz scores, and jazz-influenced imagery in the films. Jazz is music that comes from the Black population of the United States. It is wild in its rhythms and improvisations. It carries a trembling tone throughout and a warmth and raspiness. Jazz singer voices, at times, are just like the trumpets or saxes soloing on instrumental compositions.
But Amy Winehouse was Jewish, and there has always been a relationship between Black artistry and Jewish culture. Business-wise, of course (see Jerry Heller’s treatment of rap group N.W.A. in the bioflick Straight Outta Compton), but also artistically. Cultures blended, in cities like New York and Chicago.
Why do I bring this up? To underscore the inherent cinematic-ness, and historicity, part of Amy’s story. She was a Jewish girl, making Black music.
To watch her perform, is to see years of concentrated visions of studying jazz music. Her phrasing, which is the short bursts of breath with which she recites each line of her verses, is rooted in deep feeling. She expresses beautiful pain, sustained by the driving rhythms which she appears to dominate with natural bravado. She evokes the toughness and glamor of the cinematic golden age of jazz musicians.
That was her talent–the rest was her personal life, and privacy, which had been hounded by the media and their ‘need to know’.
“The only thing I’m good at, is making tunes. For the rest, leave me alone”. Although we do end up learning some interesting facts:
- She made a strong impression on everyone she met, as a pleasant, agreeable, and unforgettable presence. I believe this is instinctive to natural performers. She could read people, and instinctively express what they wanted to hear. She could become their fantasy, just with the use of words, and a smile.
- She was deeply into jazz, outsmarting other more famous musicians such as Questlove, Salaam Remi, Mark Ronson, and Mos Def.
- Her next project would have been rap-influenced, with “alliterated battle raps” a la Wu-Tang Clan.
The eating disorder, and drug addiction, is treated sensationally, as if we must pity it. But no, that is her privacy, and should have been left alone, just like the less flattering photographs, and the personal voicemails. The compelling story is her instinctual technique, and her writing ability, and the evolution of her visual style. That’s all the movie we needed.