It’s been nearly four years since the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, and, although the singer’s constant battle with substance abuse plastered every tabloid cover from here to her native London, her sudden descent into a rock and roll lifestyle largely remained a mystery. Those who closely followed her story knew the gist of it: Born to a typical Jewish family, she had innate talent and dabbled in singing but never considered it a fruitful career until one of her childhood friends and future managers, Nick Shymansky, convinced her to record an album.
After meeting hip-hop producer Salaam Remi, she was soon signed to the Island label. Next came her debut album, Frank, which garnered serious attention in the U.K., but it was her follow-up, Back to Black, that propelled her to international fame. Unfortunately, in tandem with her rapid ascent as a musician was her ultimately lethal relationship with drugs. Using the musician’s deeply personal lyrics as a guide, along with home videos, recordings, TV interviews, and concert clips, Amy, which opens in theaters nationwide July 10, gives a revealing portrait of the artist, sparing no one blame for her downfall.
Here, nine things we learned from watching the film.
1. She had the same two best friends since childhood.
Even though their relationship had its highs and lows—especially toward the end of Winehouses’s life—Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, also from North London, remained the nearest and dearest in her inner circle. Their involvement in the documentary was also key to the portrayal of the singer’s early life.
2. She hated pop music.
Winehouse always remained candid about her detestation of pop music, calling it “crap,” and refused to be associated with other mainstream soloists at the time, including Dido. Of her influences, she cited James Taylor, The Shirelles, and Tony Bennett, the latter of whom she later would collaborate with on an album. “I write music to challenge myself,” she says. “There’s no new music that represents me and how I feel.”
3. She never thought she would be famous.
In what may be the most profoundly sad line delivered in the documentary (and there are many), it’s when Winehouse comments on the potential dangers of fame on a local radio show, while promoting her debut album, Frank. “I don’t think I’m gonna be at all famous,” she says. “I don’t think I could handle it. I would probably go mad.”
4. Music was her form of therapy.
Throughout Amy, we’re shown that, despite Winehouses’s relentless dependency on drugs as a form of escape, she often used music instead as a way to cope with whatever she was going through internally. “There aren’t a lot of people who can pick up a guitar and feel better,” she says.
5. Her lyrics were culled from poems she had written—and she had a whole book of them.
Remi was the first to help transform Winehouses’s poetry into full-fledged musical compositions. “I didn’t write anything that wasn’t directly personal to me,” she says. Her Grammy Award–winning album, Back to Black, largely chronicled her tumultuous relationship with then-husband Blake Fielder-Civil.
6. She almost went to rehab in 2005, but her father said she didn’t need to.
At a particularly frustrating point in the documentary, after Winehouse overdoses for the first time, Shymansky, Ashby, and Gilbert all attempt to convince her father to take her to a rehab facility, and he claims she doesn’t need to go. What followed, of course, was her hit single “Rehab,” in which she dismisses the idea of treatment, repeatedly crooning, “I ain’t got the time / And if my daddy thinks I’m fine …”
7. Back to Black was recorded in less than three hours.
In what’s arguably the most epic recording session of all time, Winehouse teams up with producer and friend Mark Ronson to record the entirety of Back to Black in “two to three hours,” according to Ronson.
8. Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, was one of her closest friends.
Bey appears multiple times in the documentary as one of Winehouses’s first industry friends and fans, and at one point even admits that he may have had a little crush on her.
9. Tony Bennett handpicked her to sing with him on his Duets II album.
In a heartwarming scene, the audience is shown footage of when Winehouse meets Bennett, presumably for the first time ever, to record their collaborative single “Body and Soul.” Struggling to perfect her vocals after multiple attempts, Winehouse becomes visibly frustrated, at which point Bennett responds and says that all the best ones have to try a few times, quelling her neuroses.
Watch the trailer for Amy below, and make sure to catch the film in theaters nationwide on July 10.
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