Katarzyna Kebernik

20 April 2024

back to black amy winehouse

Amy Winehouse – undoubtedly one of the most iconic music stars of the 21st century. Her distinctive vocals, unique style of dress, immortal songs, and tragic life story continue to fascinate to this day. Addicted to alcohol and drugs, struggling with depression and bulimia, she died in front of her fans, pursued by ruthless paparazzi who provided the world, overly interested in her downfall, with almost uninterrupted coverage of her decline. She passed away two months before her 28th birthday due to alcohol poisoning. At the time of her death, neither her father-manager nor her ex-husband Blake was by her side: the loves of her life and the man about whom she wrote most of her best songs.

Sam Taylor-Johnson – a director, best known for “Fifty Shades of Grey” and her marriage to actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Her latest film, “Back to Black,” is better than the adaptation of the lives of Anastasia and Christian. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good film. The biggest flaw of this fictionalized biography is its mediocrity, superficiality, and lack of vision on how to portray the main character. It’s the type of music star film whose greatest strength lies in its popularizing aspect, but artistically, it offers little beyond being a Wikipedia entry brought to the screen. In “Back to Black,” we get a rundown of all the major events in the singer’s life and iconic moments of her career (such as the captured shock after winning a Grammy), we not only listen to her most famous songs (although I miss a few tracks, especially “You Know I’m No Good”), but also her musical inspirations. Viewers who go to the cinema to simply learn about Winehouse’s life will return home relatively satisfied.

back to black amy winehouse

Biographies of vivid personalities always put a heavy burden on the actors portraying such characters. Marisa Abela, embodying Winehouse, will not have reasons to be ashamed after this film; you can see the effort put into reproducing the singer’s behavior and very good preparation for the musical scenes – but it’s just a decent acting performance. The mistake was made already in the casting stage because despite the actress’s skill and commitment, she lacks the kind of screen presence and charisma required for this role. Abela, even in moments of anger and despair, looks sweet and nice, while Winehouse should have been portrayed by an actress with the potential to be eccentric, unsettling, ugly in an intriguing way; able to suggest depth, sadness, and sensitivity. The result is that in “Back to Black,” the phenomenon of Amy Winehouse was not recreated because her cinematic version is too banal, lacking in magnetism, and lacking depth in terms of the script.

With all of this, “Back to Black” has interesting and gripping moments. My favorite sequence in the entire film is the first meeting of Amy and Blake, in which the budding romance is portrayed, imbued with a certain fatalism, foreshadowing the future toxicity of this couple. I also respect the decision [MINOR SPOILER] not to show the artist’s death, to end this story at the moment of professional fulfillment, just before the downfall. [END OF SPOILER] This is not a production exploiting a tragic life story for easy tears. Amy, portrayed by Marisa Abela, is a normal girl from London, living between her family home, the pub, and the recording studio, distinguished from the crowd only by her oversensitivity, love for music, and unique style of dress.

Perhaps there is too much insistence on seeing her as a “normal” person here. Of course, Winehouse was a down-to-earth British girl next door, but there was too much chaos, unrest, and exceptional emotionality in her to reduce her only to that role, and to attribute all her misfortunes to her drug-addicted husband. Contrary to the title, the creators of “Back to Black” lack the courage to confront the inner darkness of their protagonist. Also, visually, we are dealing with a Hollywood aestheticization of truth. The film’s Amy is constantly told she’s beautiful: the real one was called ugly and strange, and early in her career, even fat (which contributed to her eating disorders). The cinematic Amy looks stylish even when high and disheveled; the real one looked frighteningly so, to the extent that many today believe that publishing such pictures of her in the press had something of a sick fascination with suffering. The character of the artist’s father is also beautified; unfortunately, he played a negative role in her life: he provided a difficult childhood and, as his daughter’s manager, trivialized her addiction and health problems, seeing them primarily as a source of profit. In the film, however, he is Amy’s closest person, always supporting and understanding her. The artist’s father was involved in the production of “Back to Black,” which makes me view this thread with a certain distaste and not consider it an attempt to whitewash Mitch Winehouse.

“Back to Black” loses especially in comparison with the 2015 documentary “Amy,” which will remain the film to which the singer’s fans will return. One might ask: why did Taylor-Johnson decide to make “Back to Black” when a fulfilling production about the author of “Rehab” already exists? The director maintains that she was friends with Winehouse and felt the need to tell her story. If this is true and this motivation is sincere, then I won’t nitpick. At the same time, it’s a bit difficult for me to see an empathetic, close look in a film that can’t say anything about the portrayed artist that tabloids haven’t already written.

Katarzyna Kebernik

Katarzyna Kebernik

She lives for reading, watching, listening and telling stories.

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