Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Dirtbag Menace: AMY (2015)

What should it benefit the world if it should gain a talented jazz singer with an old soul, perfect pitch and a deep affinity with Ella and Monk, but then lose her to a tattooed snaggle-toothed dirtbag junkie in one of those goddamned mini-fedoras? Maybe we'd have been better off not to know her at all if means watching her make a slow-motion leap into the first smiling thresher that rolls past. The pain of our loss is so great there's only three things can stop it: crack, heroin, and sweet sweet booze. The things that make our fear of death bearable are the same things that kill us. Poison numbs the misery of being poisoned --this is the slow relentless clockwork coiling of the strangling python of addiction.

That's the pain of AMY, Asif Kapadia's chilling documentary about Amy Winehouse, which uses clips from her amply videotaped life, starting from her youth as an innocent Southgate shiksa with loyal friends, family, and the voice of a 40 year-old gold-piped diva, to straggly bulimic loping after a K-Fed-ish skeever. If we happen to be addicts ourselves and have read a few celebrity bios, then we might very well shudder with the realziation that perhaps glommers like her boyfriend (above) are the natural parasites of famous alcoholics. Even Lee Marvin had them, like lice, so tough guy stance has nothing to do with it. When you're drunk and stoned all the time there's not much you can do if a fast talking charmer locks in on you. Addiction has already taught you that the best way to live with yourself while slowly dying from your own lifestyle is to convince yourself you want to die in the first place. The egg's just an excuse for the chicken to sit around on its ass all day.

This is the realization that life's grim absurdity has all but demanded your slow sacrifice to it.

Jonesers and leeches come along like all the extra parts and warranties in the packaging of addiction. Never wanted, never asked for, but you don't throw them out since you may need them one day, when the shit don't even numb the pain of the shit's not working, and all your sane, sober friends are gone. This dirtbag glommer still asleep in your bed will mix your drinks for you, even lift them to your lips, even inject you with speedballs while you're already passed out. They'll never say a word about your 'problem' because they're part of it. They wouldn't be there at your side, access to your wallet unlimited, without it.

And when you're famous enough that passers-by feel you owe them a picture of you smiling next to them, and the paparazzi blind you with epileptic seizure inducing flash bulb light shows every time you peek your head out the door, what you want is someone who's going to keep you well insulated, warm and toasty in the twin orbit of narcissist neurosis, someone who can act as a 'cross-section of the American public' like Susan Foster Kane, or Joe Gillis, someone with whom you can play outlaw couple.

I've championed a lot of messed-up female artists (Lindsay Lohan especially) on this site. I've championed their right to revel in their time, to be ranked with the 'bad boys' rather than denigrated as 'skanks', warranting the pooh-poohing of the stern Puritanical popular Scarlet Letter press. But enabling is second nature to me. It comes from growing up with a heavy drinking dad whose rages always made me feel very very calm, as if I could counterbalance him through Zen stillness. So it's easy to see now that I've been to AA, and therapy, why I feel so relaxed and calm when in the striking radius of insane hotties, even as I shudder to see their insanity consume them in self-immolating hall-of-mirror narcissistic frenzy. It's far easier to criticize the brutal cost of our enabling pop cultural blind eye and schadenfreude than to make bad blood-boiling polemics on the near impossibility of holding onto your self integrity while surrounded by the flashbulb equivalent of the cannibal boys in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. Kapadia's film may damn the British tabloid press's insatiable demand for complaints against its insatiable demands or--with the wry guidance of indirect directions--show how such a feeding frenzy creates the very death and tragedy it craves--their sneering and mocking a defense for their rubbernecking the slow-mo car crash that is a vibrant 23 year-old pop star slowly devolving into a bulimic walking corpse--but it offers no alternative. In a way, the film itself is part of the problem. Film corrupts and films about the corrupting nature of film are not somehow double negative made positive, i.e. immune to that corruption.

It's all there in Winehouse's hit song, based on a real attempt by her friends to get into rehab, an attempt kaboshed by her enabling moocher dad. "They tried to make me go to rehab / I said no no no." Dad was the one who told her she didn't need to go, that she was fine (which, I admit is what my mom would have said in similar circumstances), that she had to do another tour so he could get his share as her manager. A man who was largely absent from her life until she became famous and he realized he needed to take care of her, dad's the real villain of the story, not the press. His enabling is out of control. He even crashes her drying-out facility with a camera crew and rags on her for not taking care of her public, and flying her --while unconscious from the night before-- to frickin' Eastern Europe for a show she didn't want to do. But she allowed him into her entourage! How could she judge her dad without judging herself? No wonder she fell for such skeezy men. And I know that feeling too well, because when soooo wasted you can barely walk, you don't know who your friends are, so you just have to trust the ones who seem to know you, from somewhere...

So if it's not the dirtbags', jonesers', and moochers' fault then whose? Slithering beneath it all, right down in our chromosomes, that's the enemy. The sensitive / artistic gene is the same one that falls prey to drugs, alcohol and eating disorders. Our own chemical imbalances, genetic addiction, depression is what makes us artists, man. It's as tied up in the wheels of the celebrity death cult as anything. You can always tell the hacks from the real artists because the hacks have no drug problems. AMY delivers this global socio-historical truth in such a clear and concise way that it makes me kind of ashamed for my advocating self-destruction on this site. On the other hand, I've never stood up for cocaine, heroin, meth or their myriad derivatives and these are the ones that kill most savgely. These terribly un-psychedelic drugs bleed all over the psychedelic warrior's noble shoes by association. Me, I'm a drunk too, and if I vow I won't drink again until Hell freezes over, rest assured I'll freeze it, somehow or other. It shall be frozen.

All in all, AMY is a hell of a harrowing portrait of what alcohol, cocaine, and fame can do to a sensitive artist and her real friends and comes recommended, though the decision to show the lyrics of her songs as subtitles--every single song--seems sophomoric, for these lyrics aren't especially detail-oriented, or so I'd tell her if she was in my creative writing class, if I had one, and she was in it. Without the lyrics onscreen, maybe her raw bluesy chutzpah could shine better, for me anyway. I didn't like Whitney Houston either for the same reasons I'm not a fan of Winehouse. It's like hey, pick a note and stay there, all that single breath octave climbing gives me a headache. Give me Leadbelly or Blind Lemon Jefferson for the blues, Give me an old rocking chair and a song like "In the Gloaming," and Stumpy can take the bottle away.

In case you can't tell, that last sentence referenced NIAGRA and RIO BRAVO. May you find them now, on DVD. And for all the still sick and suffering in and out of the rooms--see you in Hell. I'll be the guy riding the Zamboni.  Watching a poor girl disappear down the chute of bulimia and alcohol addiction just isn't the kind of thing one should be sober for.

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