Amy: A Jewish Tragedy

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For many Jewish cinema-goers, part of the experience has always involved spotting the involvement of other Jews. But rarely do Anglo-Jews get the chance to see the story of one of our own as much as in Amy, the new documentary about the rise and fall of singer Amy Winehouse. 

Of course, it’s directed by a nice Indian boy, Asif Kapadia, but he understands intimately the ethnic and family codes behind putting Winehouse’s precious, fragile life up on the big screen. 

Amy, which premiered at Cannes to great acclaim in May, might have made a compelling bio-pic—after all, playing Winehouse would have given any young actress the role of her career. But if you can have the real thing, why bother? Kapadia unearths so much footage of Winehouse that we watch, helpless, as a Jewish tragedy unfolds. 

Captions identifying locations such as Southgate and East Finchley flash onto the screen and add a sense of familiarity. “When she went to Camden, that’s when everything started to change,” sighs one old friend. Of course, it’s implicit that if she had stayed in the bosom of Jewish heartland, she’d have been all right. 

There are images of Winehouse having an “evening in” with her friends, the familiar inflections and gestures of north London abounding. The Island Records executive, who signed her at 18 years old, in 2003, recalls: “She was a classic north London Jewish girl, a lot of attitude, gobby….” 

As Kapadia tells it, we all feel complicitly guilty in the tragedy of Amy Winehouse. You want to reach into the screen and stop her, hug her, tell her to stay away from that nasty Blake. If only she’d found a nice Jewish boy (like her first manager Nick Shymansky)… 

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