May 24, 2015

Trailing Off: "Amy" (2015)

Amy Winehouse
Welcome to the weekly column Trailing Off in which I take a look at a trailer from the past week and analyze its potential. This will be done using an obnoxious amount of analyzing and personal thoughts on the cast and crew as well as expectations. Coming every Sunday (it's called Trailing Off for a reason), I will attempt to highlight films ranging from new blockbusters to lesser known indies and give them their due. Partially to spread awareness, I do believe that there is an art to the sell and will do my best to highlight why these trailers matter or don't with approval (trove) or disapproval (trash). So please stop by, recommend some trailers, and I will see you next time.

Trailer in Discussion

Directed By: Asif Kapadia
Starring: Amy Winehouse

- Preamble -

The musician biopic is a touchy subject no matter who it is about. While there have been countless visionaries to grace the planet Earth, there is something that is lost when thrown into a conventional-looking production. If you just throw in photos, talking heads, and random clips, the project itself loses momentum. It can be the most informative piece of work, but without any personal passion, it loses something. That is what I worry about when new documentaries on people I like come out. As it stands, the only one who really has made any imprint recently is Alex Gibney with his work on Mr. Dynamite and Sinatra: All or Nothing at All. It was the familiar format, but he brought life to it with creative editing.
Here's why this is important. Amy Winehouse died at 27. Contrary to Gibney's subjects, she was at best famous for a few years and doesn't have that much material. At most, her enigmatic lifestyle is what could make for an interesting tale. She was a unique performer, capable of being vile in her passion and singing unlike anyone her age. She is someone worthy of remembering, even if what remained was untapped potential following her now tragic hit song "Rehab" that serves just as much as a prognosis as a reminder to why we loved her. She was just so much fun and reverent to the old bluesy ways.
So I personally worry largely because some of the best things about Winehouse is that I didn't know her personal life. She was a musician with a tortured soul. Not understanding it made her more compelling. Same goes for Kurt Cobain, whose recent Montage of Heck felt more voyeuristic than compelling. I worry that we're about to see something that is very standard in the documentary world without much authenticity. Yes, Winehouse's story could be interesting, but do I want to risk losing interest in her music because of this? Will knowing her tragic personal life make me care anymore? It is the risk one makes no matter who we're talking about. Public personas can be shattered by private ones. We'll just have to wait and see.

- Dissection -

It is a tough call exactly how to make out this trailer. For starters, it feels very well made. It gets the point across, even though I am suspect immediately when the reviews and four-star ratings overpower the back half of the trailer. I know that it is important to build critical acclaim in order to get people to see the film, but it still feels like a mediocre gimmick that is meant to convince what isn't there. If a film looks mediocre, sticking a positive review on the end feels like a form of doubt and last-second persuasion. At a certain point, it seems silly. Still, the part that is annoying is the belief that this can be a groundbreaking documentary. As great as Winehouse was, I don't feel like there's anything stylistically that will be done to change the medium. It may change our perception of her, but her career has definitely been solidified years ago. when she passed away.
Then we get to my personal crux with the trailer. It makes sense why you'd use "Back to Black" as your main song. It is haunting, poetic and captures everything that made her death tragic. It is one that immediately haunts your soul and makes the voyeuristic imagery that plays over it somewhat more moving. I am trying to disassociate myself from the song, which has taken on more personal connections, and look at how they're selling the product. 
Removing the song, there's something there. As stated, voyeuristic documentaries don't tend to be my favorite. However, there is a certain catch to it that makes me vaguely curious. It is the idea of sudden rise at such a young age that could lead to rich material. Is this going to be the focus on youth and being incapable to handle success? If that's the case, I may have some interesting. Now the question remains: does the trailer make me want to see it more than I already had intentions to? If anything, they are reaffirmed enough that I am still interested enough to give it a shot. It isn't an entirely successful trailer, as it relies too much on a sales pitch tactic, but it makes me curious in ways that I initially wasn't.

- One Sentence Sell - 

A new Amy Winehouse documentary that focuses on her short rise and fall with behind the scenes footage.

- Trash or Trove -

It could be the Amy Winehouse fan talking, but this trailer does enough to reaffirm that this could be more than just a cut and paste tale of a performer without too much of a history to explore.

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