3 Stars — Powerful

Amy Winehouse was a musical genius. She was also a troubled and conflicted young woman whose downward spiral ended her life in a drug-induced heart failure at the age of 27.

Documenting both her abilities and her struggles is award-winning British director Asif Kapadia, who won British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards for Senna and The Warrior.

Perhaps the defining description of Winehouse’s musical skill woven with her drug addiction came in 2008, when she won five Grammy Awards.

Pulling her childhood friend off-stage at this moment when she is receiving the greatest recognition of her musical ability, she says to her: “It’s so boring without drugs.”

The sad irony of this moment is unparalleled by the fact that her song about refusing to go to rehab gave her three of those awards.

A troubled young woman whose father began an affair when Winehouse was 18 months old and then divorced her mother when she was 9, her mother was too weak to guide her strong-willed daughter. The combination left her vulnerable to experimenting with alcohol and drugs from an early age.

The absence of her father created in Winehouse a tormented and troubled soul who turned to music to find an outlet for her pain. She surprised everyone — including herself — with her talent that began winning singing competitions in her early teens.

This blend of pain and genius created a soulful jazz musician with skill and depth far beyond her years. She was signed at the age of 16 and quickly moved out of her mother’s home and began both her meteoric rise to fame as well as her rapid descent into addiction.

Her longing for love made her especially vulnerable to doing drugs with the man she fell in love with and eventually married, and it was he who led her deeper down the path of addiction.

The sorrow of Winehouse’s life cannot be expressed in words. The weaving of her family’s early videos with the observations of the various people who knew her is masterful.

Perhaps the most telling example of this is when her old friends and managers try to get her to go to rehab and she turns to her father who has re-entered her life now that she is rich and famous. Winehouse is described as acting like a 7-year-old child sitting in his lap and says she will do what her father tells her to do. He informs her that she does not need rehab.

As others observe, that was the moment when she could have been kept from the path that destroyed her. It is no wonder that her father, Mitch, contests this depiction of himself and withdrew his support and cooperation from the making of the film.

The premature death of so many young artists is a great loss, not only for them and their families, but also for all of us who could have benefited from their artistic genius. Winehouse primarily expresses her pain through her music, proclaiming for example that “Love is a Losing Game,” but she could have experienced far more if she had lived a long life after recovering from her addictive loves that harmed her.

Although Winehouse was Jewish, there is no mention of her or her family following their faith tradition. We wonder what would have been different for this young artist if she had a family and a faith community to support her, and help her evaluate the path and choices of her life.


» Singing the blues with sophisticated jazz forms not only allowed Winehouse to find healing for her own soul, but also for her listeners. How do music and the arts bring healing and insight into your life?

» Winehouse’s addiction to Blake Fielder’s affection was a love that she later described as a losing game because of their shared drug and alcohol addictions. Have you ever experienced an “addiction to love” that caused a decline in your life? How would you understand that relationship now?

» The power of crack cocaine to addict the brain is well documented. What would you have done if you were a friend or family member of Winehouse? Do you think their “hands-off” approach was justified?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.