Courtesy of the British press Amy Winehouse will forever be iconized, not as the smokey toned singer whose painfully personal lyrics had the ability to touch anyone who has ever loved and lost, but rather for her willowy frame, that beehive and the thick lashings of eyeliner; as the quirky-looking young woman who, very publicly, battled and lost to her demons.
Arena: Amy Winehouse takes us back to a time before the tabloids documented Winehouses’ every movement. In 2006, she made the rather arduous journey to the Dingle Festival, South West Ireland, to play in a local parish church that could only accommodate an audience of 80 people. Arena seeks to allow Winehouse to tell the story of her music in her own words. The Dingle Festival creates the most intimate of atmospheres and Winehouse played with just two musicians and minimal production. This cinematic communion highlights just how vulnerable she was, not only as a singer, but as a woman of 22 whose heart had been broken by the boy she loved.
Arena is comprised of Winehouse’s six song set at the Dingle Festival, and supplemented with reflections from people who were there on that day, from her bass player to the parish priest. In interview segments, Winehouse shares her musical influences, from Monk to Carleen Anderson and clips of her icons are played to enable the audience to hear the sounds that inspired her.
Winehouse is described as a modern day prophet; someone who tells it exactly as it is. Perhaps this is what makes her church performance all the more meaningful, because there is a truth in what she had to say. Winehouse’s lyrics are both insightful and beautiful, the words could belong to anyone looking into their own soul, which is no doubt what made her resonate with such a broad fan base.
The real flaw with Arena is that it very much has the feel of a television special, rather than a cinematic experience. It is hard to see, other than hardcore Winehouse and potentially genre fans, who this documentary will appeal to. It is very much a niche piece of film and at times it feels as though the additional footage is filler to what is, on its own, a killer performance.
Perhaps the real achievement of Arena is showing a side of Winehouse that was neglected by the media. Here we see a polite, often charming woman whose musical abilities were so passionately influenced by those that had come before her; a musician who has left a legacy of songs that will long outlive the demons that destroyed her.
Arena: Amy Winehouse plays at 7pm on Tuesday 3rd July at the East End Film Festival. Click here for more details.
Vicki has awarded Arena: Amy Winehouse 2.5 Torches of Truth.