And Now It’s Dark with Amy Winehouse

Amy

In David Lynch’s seminal classic Blue Velvet (which thematically shares with Amy a tortured dark-haired chanteuse manipulated by her own internal demons as well as the vile men in her life), the line, “And now it’s dark…” is used as a secret password into a nightmarish world lurking underneath white picket fences.  Later in Mulholland Drive, Lynch meditated more deeply on the tortured female soul, the flickering white lights after a failed actress’ suicide eerily like the flashes of the paparazzi’s cameras.  Asif Kapadia briefly muses on the cameras that blinded Amy Winehouse’s soul as well, but his humanist documentary is so much more than just a portrayal of the archetypal tortured artist.  Amy was a tortured soul long before the celebrity-obsessed cameras devoured what little was left of her.

Watching her meteoric rise and subsequent crash and burn play out in the media as it happened, I had this notion of Amy Winehouse as some meta-dramatist (with a killer voice, sassy attitude and old-school jazzy vibe) who was hell-bent on living the stereotypical hard-drinking lifestyle of a musician.  I baked in my head a stale soufflé of her as someone who wanted to drink because she thought it brought out the best in her art, because she thought that’s the way a real jazz musician had to behave, and that harder drugs were just a doorway to another level.  I couldn’t have been more wrong about poor Amy, who in her own words and rare archival footage, makes it clear she was most brilliant when she was sober and wrestling her demons through music, and that all the drinking and drugs were self-medication for when she couldn’t find her voice, not necessarily her literal voice, but her hard-fought catharsis in pouring out her soul through songs that filled the voids that had existed in her life since childhood (which was not so much Grand Guignol, but ordinarily sad in its universal familial strife).  I had no idea her lyrics (always noted for their cunning wordplay that lent itself so beautifully to her signature annunciation, lilt, rises and attitude) were so literally literal.  They often deceived a listener into thinking they were metaphors, but they weren’t.  She was not one to mince words.  Her albums were her autobiographies.  And they painted a tragic tale. Continue reading

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Melancholia, Marriage and the End of the World

Lars Von Trier’s epic ode to depression and the end of the world – perhaps one and the same – opens with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde playing over a series of breathtaking, beautiful and perfectly composed shots that at first appear to be stills until you realize they are moving in ultra slow motion.  With the hauntingly operatic music full of swooning lilts and gasping rises into the stratosphere, Von Trier symbolically (and in some shots literally) transmits what we are about to experience.  The slow motion represents the trudging through emotions while the music elicits thoughts of a great tragedy about to befall us all.  And then boom! – he lays all of his cards right on the table as we watch in simultaneous horror and joy as two worlds collide.  It’s an eerily quiet yet emotionally bombastic counter action to Terence Malick’s creation of the universe sequence in The Tree of Life.  Both films, operating at opposite poles and giving us glimpses into the vast outward expanse of human imagination through the precipitous downward spiral into the mind and madness of one, are miraculous masterpieces.

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