I feel like my heart has been broken, just a little bit, this evening.
Asif Kapadia’s two hour documentary about the singer, Amy Whinehouse, who died aged only 27, is a wonderfully personal and extremely moving portrait of a young woman, desperate FOR love and desperate TO love, whose internal demons were stoked by the trappings of her success: from the mind-blowing media attention, and the pressure on her to perform, to the money and fame-hungry hangers-on.
A mentally unstable young woman with a long-standing eating disorder and substance abuse issues, who was trying to regain her health and some normality, when her body finally gave up.
Much of Amy’s story is told through her two best friends who had known her since childhood, as well as through Nicky Shymansky, who discovered her when he was a 19 year-old wannabe A&R guy and she was just 16. Fascinating, and unexpected, insights also come from hip-hop artists Yasiin Bey, and Amy’s beloved producer, Salaam Remi, both of whom she was close to. These authentic voices and knowledge of ‘the real Amy’ and what she truly wanted in life reinforce the tragedy of her latter years and her early demise.
In the Q&A session after the screening, Asif revealed that he didn’t want to make this film, initially. In 2010, he’d released his first documentary, Senna, about the racing driver, which had taken him five years to make. The following year, in 2011, Amy died. Living in Kentish Town at the time, he’d witnessed some of the media circus that surrounded her in nearby Camden, but he’d never seen her sing and knew nothing about her other than the headlines.
When approached by Amy’s record company, Universal, a year after her death, to do a documentary about her, he thought it was far too soon, and slightly distasteful, to be thinking of that. So, he turned them down.
But Universal’s proposal had piqued Asif’s interest, so he started quietly doing some research on his own, thinking it would be a slow burn, if it came off at all. The more he learnt, the more fascinated he became. When researching Senna, it had felt like the driver’s life was full of light. Everyone would talk about him with joy. However, with Amy, it was very different. Her memory was surrounded by darkness and suspicion. People didn’t want to talk. It was as though they’d all taken a vow of silence over her.
Asif was intrigued. He agreed to do the film, Universal happily granted his request of full access to her catalogue and her family were completely supportive. He spent months hanging out with people, gaining their trust. Gradually, they opened up to him. At first no-one wanted to be on camera, so he would audio record conversations in a darkened studio and hope that the person speaking would sign the release form at the end. For this reason, the film is full of voiceovers from those sessions. As people relaxed around him, eventually they started admitting that they had home videos, answer phone messages, or notes from Amy, that Asif could check out. This includes her mother and a friend who had parts of Amy’s diary that they’d been hiding from the hangers-on, and which they eventually let him use.
In another film, all this might feel intrusive. Here, it doesn’t.
Asif describes listening to Amy’s CDs whilst driving and being struck by her lyrics. So, he put them centre stage in the film, up on the screen. They provide a heartbreaking timeline and insight into the various stages of Amy’s life.
Asif Kapadia, on the left (honest!)
Asif admits that the three years spent making the film took their toll. The last two years was spent editing the extensive amount of footage gathered, with his team. The year before that was spent talking to people around the world who knew Amy. He says that those interviews felt like therapy sessions. Everyone – from good friends, to journalists – seemed to feel burdened by guilt about Amy and everyone would end the interview crying. There seemed to be a universal (no pun intended) awareness that Amy was often pushed too far, despite being unstable – by those who claimed to love her, as well as by those that supposedly worked for or with her. Pressured into performing, or hounded by the media, at times when what she really needed was to stop everything and be looked after.
A lot has been written about this film. On the back of that, I did wonder if I was being just another voyeur. But I’m really, really glad that I’ve seen it. It’s easy to dismiss it as ‘not telling us anything new’ (as one woman said to Asif in the Q&A afterwards – which was a bit rude, I thought, but hey… ), but I disagree. When Amy passed away, people were shocked but not surprised and 99% assumed it was from a drug overdose.
Sadly, we’d forgotten the Amy that came before the crack and smack. This film brings that young girl back to life. Amy wrote her first album, Frank, when she was just 16/17 years old. And Back To Black when she was in her early twenties. When you see those early, amateur video clips, hear her sing and read her lyrics, you can’t help but be struck by the amazing natural talent that this intelligent and funny young girl from North London possessed.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that no single thing caused Amy’s demise. A perfect storm of bad decisions – many of which were inflicted on her by those around, who should have been protecting her, but some made by herself. Rather than trying to point the finger, or blame anyone, Asif and his team have allowed history to speak for itself and in doing so, have made what feels like a really truthful film.
The Guardian’s Masthead Today Pays Tribute To Its Spectacled Leader
Today, Alan Rusbridger, steps down after 20 years’ of amazing service as editor of the world-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning Guardian newspaper. He took over the reigns in 1995, after initially joining in 1979, leaving for a short stint then returning for good, to launch the Weekend magazine in 1988, followed by the paper’s G2 section in 1992.
In my mind, without The Guardian, the British newspaper landscape would have been a very sorry place over those years. Simplistically, we would have been left with a choice between Murdoch-owned propaganda machines (The Times and The Sun), the appropriately-nicknamed ‘ToryGraph’ (the Daily Telegraph), or a constant diet of salacious celebrity tittle-tattle (Daily Mail or Daily Express, anyone?), with an un-engaging sprinkling of economics in between (the Financial Times).
The Guardian not only brings us honest and fair reporting, covering the issues that matter, it truly champions the people of this country and beyond. Not for PR currency, but because it genuinely cares about the issues that should be affecting us all, whether through our first hand suffering, or emotionally and ethically, through the suffering we witness in others.
I’ve seen Alan speak on a few occasions and I have always been struck by his compassion and integrity. Invaluable qualities that, for a lesser man, may have diminished over the years as his influence and success increased. Yet, he has stayed consistently true to his ethics, leading his team in a way that reflects that, even down to the management and overall direction of the paper. Democratically run, the Guardian team chose Alan’s successor, Katherine Viner, by group vote. Similarly, they sat down in a room together one lunch time to debate and mutually agree on who the paper would support in the recent election.
Foolishly, despite not actually knowing Alan (and despite the fact that he’s not dead, just retiring from The Guardian..), I really do feel like I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. To me he embodies the spirit and the values of The Guardian, both of which I admire greatly. So, whilst I’m happy for him and look forward to seeing what he does next, I know he will be missed.
I was intending my first post in a while – and the first for 2015 – to be something suitably uplifting and inspirational, as is befitting a new year. Sadly, it’s not to be. I’m on a beautiful, remote island in Thailand and was feeling refreshed and positive about the months ahead – until yesterday, when I checked twitter, (on behalf of a client – I wouldn’t’ve bothered if it was for me, to be honest..), and I saw the breaking news of the horrendous shooting at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Journalists, gunned down in cold blood while at work because people don’t like what they write or the satirical cartoons that they draw. (And it’s important to note that Charlie Hebdo magazine doesn’t just ridicule Muslims, it laughs at everyone – from English people, to the Pope.) So far, the death toll stands at nine journalists and two police officers.
I’m a member of the NUJ and I’m proud to say that at 12pm today, French time, UK journalists observed a minute’s silence in honour of their fallen French comrades and in defiance of the pure evil behind these murders. Some held ‘Je Suis Charlie’ signs, others held pencils and pens.
I might be on the other side of the world, previously daydreaming of how things will be in 2015 but, unfortunately, this has jolted me back to the reality of life. A sad reminder of the people who use religion as an excuse to murder.
Delighted to have found one of the Books About Town. There are 50 of these wonderful bench sculptures dotted around London, designed to look like open books, to celebrate London’s literary heritage and promote reading for enjoyment.
This bench is homage to The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde.
I feel like an intrepid hunter, having found it, and need to dedicate this post – and ‘my’ bench – to @OheMCeewho I know was looking forward to seeing one ‘in real life’ as much as I was.
As if I needed reminding of how much I love my home town.
Violence has a starring role in this film, as two generations of London gangsters go head-to-head.
Adam may be young but he works hard to maintain his reputation as the face to fear, on the South East London housing estate where he lives. Backed up, unquestionably, by his army of teenage foot soldiers, he terrorises his neighbours, steels from his fellow criminals and bullies his loyal minions.
The personification of an angry young man, Adam is driven to extreme violence by the inner demons and insecurities that manifest themselves in his need to be top dog. The only chink in his armour of bravado is his dedication to his little brother, who he shields from the realities of his life.
Mitch has been there, done that. Now well into his 40s, his nice family life is a million miles away from the old football hooligan days when his gang, The Guvnors, used to rule the terraces, as well as the streets, led by him.
They were very different times. Back then, disputes were resolved with the fist and even hooligans knew when to show respect. Nowadays, blades and bricks are the tools of the trade and fear has replaced respect as the currency used to gain power and keep control.
After a particularly nasty attack on a young girl, the local police round up Adam and his cohorts. Frustrated at their inability to prove what they know has happened, DC Meyler tells them that back in the day, The Guvnors would have put them straight.
That comment plays on Adam’s insecurities, to bloody effect and Mitch finds that no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape your past.
The Guvnors is a gripping, gritty and realistic script, full of great twists. It falls down slightly in a few places. In particular, more insight was needed into Adam’s absent mum, plus the biggest twist of the film generates little reaction from most of the characters, which really jarred for me. There’s also a fairly big oversight in the continuity – I’ll let you see if you can spot that yourselves. But, overall I really enjoyed the film. It’s another take on the generation of kids whose absent parents have led them to seek an alternative family in the worst possible places. As well as being an interesting – not often examined – look at what happens to ‘ex-nutters’, when they try to move away from that life.
Guvnors is driven by brilliant acting from Harley Sylvester – bizarrely, one half of the sugar sweet ‘hip hop’ duo, Rizzle Kicks (who I really like but would NEVER have imagined in the role of Adam) – as well as Doug Allen, who plays Mitch. Plus, a great supporting cast, including David Essex (!), as Mitch’s old boxing coach, Mickey, and Charley Palmer Merkell as Adam’s loyal sidekick, Trey.
Amazing that this is the first full feature of writer/director, Gabe Turner. He’s done a great job bringing this story to life.
[Watched at the Edinburgh International Film Festival – EIFF]
Known as the Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles was a massive part of the soundtrack of my life. Really sad to hear of his passing last night, aged only 59. The music, memories and love that he leaves behind are immeasurable.
So many classic songs. But Your Love has to be the one (having problems embedding this properly, so click on the name link, above or below!):
Bold. Brash. Violent. Vulgar. Frightening. Funny. Jaw dropping. Gut wrenching.
Starred Up takes gritty realism to a whole other level. It had me cowering in my seat. Laughing out loud. Jumping from shock. And at one point not-so-silently praying that what I was witnessing wasn’t really about to happen.
Seen at the London Film Festival, back in October 2013 – and getting its general release in the UK today – this absolutely outstanding film totally topped ten days in which I’d seen some real corkers.
19 year old Eric Love is transferred from a juvenile detention centre to an adult prison – two years before he should really be sent. He’s ‘starred up’, meaning his file is marked, due to his violent behaviour. And from the moment he arrives it’s clear his card is marked as well. What happens next takes us on a roller coaster of emotions.
Jack O’Connell as Eric & Ben Mendelsohn as Nev
We were really lucky that both the director, David McKenzie, and the writer, Jonathan Asser were there to do a Q&A after our screening. Before seeing the film, I’d read that it had been based on Jonathan’s time as a prison councillor. After seeing the film, there are no words to express my admiration at his writing. He truly has turned his work experience into an amazing film experience for us all. He’s managed to combine humour with downright horror and, somehow, still leave a glimmer of hope – all whilst confronting us full-on with the very worst of what we imagine goes on in our institutions. It feels like it’s been written with truth and compassion. And despite the machismo, vulgarity and violence, it still manages to have real moments of tenderness.
Jack O’Connell is outstanding as Eric. Whilst Ben Mendelsohn as his dad, Nev, and Sam Spruell as Governor Hayes, are totally brilliant, too. In fact, it’s a great cast – and an extremely interesting one, as some of the parts are played by Jonathan Asser’s ex prison patients.
During the Q&A, someone asked McKenzie if he’d studied the film Scum in perpetration for directing Starred Up. The answer was no. And I was glad. Whilst it’s natural to make such comparisons, it would be too easy to dismiss this as just a modern day wannabe. That wouldn’t do it justice. Starred Up stands tall by itself.