mon 15/07/2024

DVD/Blu-Ray: Back to Black | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-Ray: Back to Black

DVD/Blu-Ray: Back to Black

Sam Taylor-Johnson's enjoyable but soft-focused take on the Amy Winehouse story

Me and Mr Jones: Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse with Jack O'Connell as Blake Fielder-CivilStudiocanal

Sam Taylor-Johnson’s biopic Back to Black, written by Matt Greenhalgh and starring Marisa Abela (Industry) as Amy Winehouse, has been criticised for its soft-focused approach.

And its sympathetic portrayals of Blake Fielder-Civil (a punchy Jack O’Connell) and Amy’s dad Mitch (Eddie Marsan) are very different from those in Asif Kapadia’s damning 2015 documentary Amy. The possibility of the famously protective Mitch having any editorial control is denied by Taylor-Johnson, but one wonders.

In interviews in the sparse, disappointingly bland and overly reverential “special features” on this DVD/Blu-ray release, Taylor-Johnson emphasises that Back to Black is framed around the songs on the eponymous album, that it’s first and foremost a love story. A joyous one, adds Abela, which seems slightly over the top. But, she says, it’s about how Amy sees the world rather than how the world sees Amy. Which does make a kind of sense, and the film, especially Abela’s terrific interpretation of Winehouse’s songs, is very watchable.

It was shot chronologically backwards, building her character and her physique in reverse, so she gained weight as shooting progressed. The younger Amy, says movement coach Sara Green, was much freer in her body; later the beehive, inspired by her beloved grandmother Cynthia (Lesley Manville, pictured below with the younger Winehouse) who was a jazz singer in the 50s, brought more tension to the head and neck. She became less tomboyish, with smaller movements. It’s a transformation that “bleeds into every part of her life.”amyThere’s no denying that Abela gives a phenomenal performance and it’s hard to believe that she’d never sung before. “It’s not an impression, more of a reminder, and that’s a very difficult thing to pull off,” comments Anne-Marie Speed, Abela’s vocal coach. And it's good to be reminded of Winehouse’s extraordinary talent, the way she inhabits her songs. “She was an amazing singer and an amazing song-writer. It’s very rare to be both,” says music producer Giles Martin.

There was discussion, says Martin, over whether to dub or not. “If we’d dubbed her voice in, there would have been a disconnect emotionally,” says Taylor-Johnson. And, she adds, Amy’s old band, with bass guitarist Dale Davis (music director on the movie) and backing singer Ade Omotayo, were very impressed with Abela and recorded the songs with her, though they don't appear in the film. Mark Ronson, co-producer of the Back to Black album with Salaam Remi, is conspicuous in his absence.

cover amyIn the background, apart from a few scenes in New York and Miami, there is Camden, especially the street where Amy lived and the tunnel leading to it, beauifully shot by cinematographer Polly Morgan, and the pubs, the Dublin Castle and the Good Mixer - both still unrenovated - where Amy meets Blake for the first time. He buys her a drink – she’s on something appropriately lethal yet girly called Rickstasy, featuring Southern Comfort, vodka, Bailey’s and banana liqueur. He plays her the Shangri Las on the jukebox. She’s never heard of them, which seems unlikely given the depth of her musical knowledge.

Camden is essential to Amy’s identity and a character in its own right, says producer Alison Owen. She was a Camden girl through and through, repeats Polly Morgan. Would she have stayed there? Or would she have ended up in the US, sanitised and tanned, with an entourage, carefully curating her image? It’s hard to imagine.

It's good to be reminded of Winehouse’s extraordinary talent, the way she inhabits her songs


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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