Yesterday I saw the documentary on Amy Winehouse. Only familiar with the tarty, tattooed version of Ms. Winehouse with over penciled eyes and Marg Simpson hair, I was surprised to see a very natural fresh young woman. She is first filmed at age 15 and she is unassuming and silly and even a bit sweet. We watch as the perfect storm predicts her inevitable downfall and demise. Disturbed by her parents’ breakup, especially an absent father, her unexpected talent catapults her into the center of a media storm. With no support, in deed a father who reappears only to take advantage of the profits of his needy daughter’s profitable success and a narcissistic drug- peddling husband, Amy is ensured failure.
It seems it is only into her music where she can disappear. The filmmaker does not grab at our emotions even though much of the narrative is presented through the voices of lifelong acquaintances and people close to her. We never see her shooting up, or crying for attention. The film and photographs are fair. We feel as if we are judging for ourselves. Two of those lifelong true friends attempt rescues, but bulimic since adolescence, Amy is unable to find the strength to abstain from the terrible vices that drown her. In spite of her addictions and growing fame, she is not full of herself, even after winning award after award. She is amazed, genuinely touched and humble in face of the honours, almost embarrassed. Hearing her name read along with Rhianna, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake at The “2007 MTV Video Music Awards”, she could as easily be merely audience to the proceedings , as opposed to being one of the named performers. She is in awe of Tony Bennett with whom she practices a duet, overwhelmed by her own lack of perfection, and the fact that he has chosen to sing with her. The filmmaker catches her honestly, lack of pretense. The drugs and booze bedazzle her and cut her off from reality. These indulgences fog her up. Sadly she is unable to control these excesses, much like a child venturing further and further off the edge of shore, teasing the spirits to call her bluff.
But throughout her misadventures, we like and cheer for this forthright girl, this mugging dark-eyed beauty. In the end, of course, she is a tragic hero. Though many, particularly in the realm of stars, have succumbed, there is something different about Amy Winehouse. Perhaps it is her shyness, her openness and how even fame and fortune do not tarnish the essence of her : not being affected by the rise to her ( dooming) fame.
In contrast but similarly the Netflix, Grace and Frankie series, gives us two seventy year olds whose husbands Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson have broken their marriage vows so they ( the men) can be together. Although Sheen and especially Waterson are fine, it is the women who tickle me. Grace (Jane Fonda), a former business woman displays a plethora of emotions: some gleaned through having an open mind and heart throughout the years of experiencing life. First annoyed by the hippiesque Frankie, Grace eventually can set aside her annoyance toward this aged drug taking big-dressing eccentric and display compassion and empathy for Frankie’s grief at the demise of her relationship with Sol ( Waterson). Her language, her words make me laugh out loud. She in spite of her own dejected and depressed state with the help of Grace can still embrace life, even, and at Grace’s insistence, do a wild dance on the bar of a club. Grace as well displays honesty, at her own aging body where lower underarms swing, for even the Jane Fonda exercise regime has not been able to keep them firm! (Such is the inevitable and unenviable power of gravity on women’s bodies.) And she, still a beauty as Jane or Grace insists she jump in bed before her online date can view her loosening body.
Just as Amy Winehouse, Grace and Frankie’s emotions are not hidden in posing or “acting” certain ways to please or fool or manipulate others. They are what they are: for good or bad. For the baby boomers, to observe mature woman behaving realistically, believably and admirably relaxed with themselves is a vast improvement to the posturing we often view of too painted or too decrepit women of this age. As role models, Grace and Frankie are older but better, seasoned and still attractive- even if their tummies have fallen and the lines around the eyes are visible. They know themselves and even having had the advantages of comfortable upper class lives, they have not been puffed up, but rather eased into themselves as women we might be or hope to emulate.
I think we mourn Amy as one of ourselves, a person so capable, so easily lead and lost, that lovely soulful voice that speaks and ensnarls us in emotions that stretch from girlhood to maturity and decline, the voice that has persisted even when life ends. Rest in peace.