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‘Back to Black’ illuminates the Winehouse story

Iconic moments and epic performances define the Amy Winehouse biopic, now showing in select Ster Kinekor cinemas, writes ANGELIQUE MOGOTLANE.

Back to Black, the biographical movie telling the story of the legendary British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, is filled with Iconic moments and epic performances.

The film, starring Marisa Abela as the tragic singer, navigates through different layers of the artist’s life and unravels the rollercoaster love story that lies at the heart of the Back to Black album, Amy Winehouse’s second and last album, recorded in 2006.

The biopic not only captures her music career but also digs into her personal life and her character, superbly portrayed by Abela.

Born on 14 September 1983, Amy Winehouse’s childhood is not extensively covered in the film. Instead, it predominantly focuses on her music career and teenage years. Her innovative music style merges electronic elements with imaginative sound design, crafting an atmosphere that feels both modern and technologically sophisticated. Utilising electronic instruments, drum machines, and digital effects, her music emanates a futuristic aura.

The movie vividly portrays Amy Winehouse’s dreams, and her authentic approach to music. She lacked any ambition for fame but was driven by a profound desire to sing and convey her message. The film also sheds light on her struggles with media intrusion, her discomfort in large crowds and lack of interest in fame or media attention. 

Her relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil was an important phase in her life, though they had a difficult on-and-off relationship. They eventually got married in Miami, without Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, being present. Throughout the movie it is made very clear that Amy had a very close relationship with her father and grandmother. Her grandmother Cynthia Winehouse, who herself was also a vocalist, encouraged Amy’s musical career.

Before meeting Blake, she was a heavy drinker and indulged in cannabis, but did not use heavy drugs. It was Blake who introduced her to drugs, resulting in her becoming an addict. He ran into trouble with the law, leading to a spiral of events that contributed to Amy’s downfall.

Her songs are deeply rooted in her own experiences. The Rehab song, in which she sang “They tried to make me go to Rehab, and I said No No No”, explained what she meant by her comment “I need to live my songs”. This was authentic statement, as her songs were a reflection of her life, and left an unforgettable impact on listeners and fans. 

In total, Amy Winehouse received 26 awards from 69 nominations across various ceremonies, including six Grammys from eight nominations. The film features some of her iconic songs from the Back to Black album, like Monkey Man, Cupid, Tears dry on their own, and Me and Mr. Jones.

Amy cherished her intimate live jazz gigs, seldom opting for larger audiences. The documentary authentically portrays her journey, featuring genuine footage that conveys her narrative with sincerity. 

The film is directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and written by Matt Greenhalgh. Alongside Marisa Abela’s stellar performance, the film also stars Jack O’Connell as Blake Fielder-Civil, Eddie Marsan as Mitch Winehouse, and Lesley Manville as Cynthia Winehouse.

* Back to Black is being screened at Ster-Kinekor cinemas from today (12 April 2024).

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