Some Ramblings - Amy (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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She had a slender frame that belied the booming sound billowing out of her vocal chords. Natural talent, they said, when she started out as a pretty young lass, still in her mid teens, in her working class neighborhood putting up shows at small social gatherings. Destined to be one of the greats of the genre, they predicted. It wasn't so much as reading the tea leaves as it was reading the writing on the wall, the familiar origin story of a diamond discovered while still in the rough. And the story treaded a predictable route from there on. Catching the attention of a local talent scout who would soon introduce her to a small time record label, cutting the first record that becomes a global phenomenon forcing the industry to sit up and take notice of her, being awarded the Best Solo Artist and Album of the year later that year at the Grammy's, and suddenly become overwhelmed with instant fame and raining money - this upward trajectory of born artists is played out ad nauseam. And then the descent. Unable to cope with sudden success, ill-equipped to handle the financial windfall and its associative issue, the parasitic feeders, she quickly slipped into a downward spiral of self destruction, of her health and talent, consuming only the worst and abusing even those to the hilt. While her relationships from her childhood past - her friends, family and well wishers - could only look on as she continued on her suicide mission of excess and indulgence, aided, abetted and enabled at every step by the man who took the solemn vow to remain by her side in sickness and health (which, to his credit, he did), the voice that can only be termed as gifted, the talent that came along only once every generation, and the connection, with her audience, that was just mystical, all snuffed out in that one final binge of drugs and alcohol. Her husband, caught on the wrong side of the law a few times before, pleaded innocence for his role in her shocking fall from the stars. Sad, but not surprising, even this tragic downward trajectory is also all too familiar at the altar of fame and glory. Though the artist in question is Whitney Houston, that name is quite interchangeable with many other artists in the last few decades who flew too close to the flame too fast and burned out into a puff of magic dust just as fast as they risen up.

'Amy', a documentary about the British jazz phenomenon Amy Winehouse follows the above American Whitney Houston's road to success and then to doom quite faithfully, beat to beat, step to step. The proceedings are put together from never seen before footage of personal videos of Amy's friends, family and associates, charting her rise from an awkward teenager from North London, who simply transformed into a powerhouse of a performer in front of a mic, through those inspired moments when those hand scribbled notes on scraps of paper turned into soulful songs full of pain, pining and longing, all in front of small private crowds, sometimes in smoke filled bar rooms or her own disheveled living quarters. The documentary doesn't have a narrative per se, where the footage is assembled to drive home a certain point of view. Instead it merely follows her through the key moments in her life, the highest being the Grammy award win for her debut album and the lowest, her eating disorders, her addictions, her struggles to keep her sanity in tact, all captured not from a distant third person standpoint, but in a very intimate (even, in the face) first person perspective. This certainly gives a lot of insight into how the people around her, after her breakout as a best selling artist, her father, her husband and her manager, all put their needs before her, her father negotiating a reality TV deal around her rehab efforts, her husband who got her first taste of the hard drugs and personally saw to her destruction, her manager who indiscriminately booked touring gigs, a ripe (a)venue for personal annihilation with easy access to all vices, while she was still going through her personal hell battling addiction. Strong voice, she was blessed with, strong will, she was seriously shortchanged.

The first half of the presentation, the turning of the scrawny caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, is a personal invitation into the mind of a genius musician, to witness the connecting of the dots from inspiration to brilliance, the turning of the many scratches and strikeouts on crumpled pieces of papers of words, verses and notes into musical soliloquys, the creation of a sonic boom in front of a mic from a voice, a body that ironically was ravaged with bulimia. The second half, the implosion of the star, is just as disheartening, as the talent withers, winces and wilts away under the burden of personal misery. While it is one thing reading in a newspaper about a rockstar succumbing to his personal weaknesses, watching from near quarters the same star stumble down one step at a time from casual experimentation to indiscriminate addiction to rehab to relapse, is painful and frustrating. It just shows how easy (or even, how natural) it is for artists who constantly delve into and dwell in the deep recesses of pain for bringing that necessary depth to their art, to take these temporary pain inhibitors for both relaxation and recuperation. Though it is hard to be sympathetic for such self-inflictions, it at least makes a case for how addictions take root, take hold and eventually take over. These sad stories are as old as art itself, to the point that they have long ceased to be cautionary tales. The path to the top (or, should it be, to the bottom?) is littered with battered stories as these, where the rise up fills the heart with hope and happiness and the fall down, with despair and heartbreak....the stuff art is made up of.

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