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Film Review AMY WINEHOUSE: THE DAY SHE CAME TO DINGLE

Our esteemed Music and Film expert, Victoria D. Whitmore, reviews the music documentary: Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle

Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle

Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle
Maurice Linnane, 2012
UK | 59 minutes

SUMMARY: On a stormy December night, singer Amy Winehouse flew to the remote, southwestern corner of Ireland to perform for Other Voices, an acclaimed Irish TV music series filmed in Dingle every winter. Winehouse performed on the stage of the tiny Saint James’ church (capacity 85) and wowed the crowd with a searing acoustic set. Following the concert, happy and relaxed, she spoke about her music and influences—Mahalia Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, and  others. This documentary revisits that night, catches up with people the singer met including taxi driver Paddy Kennedy and Reverend Mairt Hanley, and shows a surprising and charming side of Amy Winehouse.

REVIEW:

On the SouthWest coast of Ireland, in the County of Kerry, sits the town of Dingle with its jagged edged cliffs off the seaside. Early settlers said it was the end of the world. It is also known as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Dingle’s enchanting mainland served as the backdrop for movies – RYAN’S DAUGHTER, FAR AND AWAY. And at this spot at the end of the world one can find the 200 year old Church of St. James. A very small church, and within its walls one can find not only worship but also a venue that holds the energy and spirit of undeniable musical preeminence.

“Artists sense something when they come here, I have no doubt. It’s the effort of getting here that makes the way they perform different”, thinks Phillip King, Senior Editor and creator of the Irish Broadcast television series ”OTHER VOICES”, who filmed an intimate concert by Amy Winehouse, at the Church of St. James, and a fascinating and unpredictable interview that gazes into the heart and soul of the softer side of Amy Winehouse. AMY WINEHOUSE: THE DAY SHE CAME TO DINGLE, a documentary record of that performance and interview, came to New York City as part of the NEW YORK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre.

Mairt Hanley, Vicar of the Church of St. James, references Amy as he states “It’s our musicians and our artists who are the prophets of today. Because a prophet, Biblically speaking, is not a fortuneteller. A prophet is someone who tells it how it is, who, hopefully, sees things like God sees things….tells you how things really are, as opposed to how people might think they are”. Director Maurice Linnane charms the viewer with  personal stories from people who interacted with Amy in Dingle – people like Paddy Kennedy, Amy’s driver while in Dingle, a sweet unassuming fatherly type who had no idea who Amy Winehouse was. “This girl comes along and this man with her”, remembers Kennedy, “and I’m actually looking over for more people and I come and I finally said to her ‘Where’s your mother?’ ‘My mother is back in London.’ We were laughing…. I thought she was a child of Amy Winehouse.”

Dale Davis, her bass guitarist and close friend, reflects in the film on Amy’s love and admiration for Thelonious Monk and her love of Ireland. Never before seen footage of Amy Winehouse with interviewer John Kelly, presenter of “OTHER VOICES”, exposes an easy, relaxed and comfortable rapport between the two as she chronicles her artistic influences year by year from her youth and the events in her life at those pivotal moments. This footage shines as Amy shares these times with a genuine innocence and naive humor. She loves Kylie Minogue at age six, then Madonna. “Salt n Pepa at age ten. I’m like: I got my music now!” She loves Ella Fitzgerald, but prefers Sarah Vaughan. “Sarah‘s voice is an instrument, she sounds like a clarinet”. Her brother introduces her to many pivotal influences like Dinah Washington, whom she loved. “I started listening to jazz at fourteen.”

“I remember the first time I heard Ray Charles. It was ‘Unchain My Heart’! I remember walking into my brother’s room. I use to knock because he would throw stuff at you if you didn’t. But I opened the door the door and he goes, ‘What?’ He looked at me as if I was about to go, ‘Mum’s dead’ or something”.  She knocks wood. “He goes, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I went, “What’s this?’ and he went, ‘It’s Ray Charles.’ Then I just listened to Ray Charles for three months, exclusively”.

Her idol worship encompasses English jazz artist Soweto Kinch. She cheerily elaborates about her mild obsession with the Shangri-Las. “I love the drama, I love the atmosphere, I love the sound effects. And they wrote the most depressing songs ever; ‘I Can Never Go Home Anymore.’ When me and my boyfriend finished, I used to listen to that song on repeat, just sitting on my kitchen floor with a bottle of Jack Daniels, I’d pass out, wake up and do it again. My flatmate used to come in, leave bags of KFC and just leave. She’d be like, ‘There’s your dinner; I’m going out.” It’s the saddest song in the world”. She also reminisces with a mixture of pride and gratitude about her early career playing her music in Russian clubs and casinos. “They were Russian clubs and I was a Russian Jew, so they liked me. They kept asking me back.”

amy winehouse in st james church dingle, december 2006

Amy’s broadcast concert, filmed before the Church of St James’ full house of just 85 people is remarkably intimate – she’s relaxed and powerful – one of her best performances and a true indication of a great performer at the top of her game. Her voice is pure and soulful, her control precise, her mix of tonal quality superbly harmonic. She remains comfortable onstage, clearly enjoying her environment offstage and on. Accompanied by only a guitarist and bass, the performance offers proof that simplicity is often an essential ingredient in greatness.

But the documentary also provides BEAUTIFUL excerpts of vintage footage of stellar influences – Mahalia Jackson singing an old but popular gospel tune, Sarah Vaughn, Carleen Anderson accompanying herself on piano. The clips offer profound insight into the many sounds that are woven into creating the unique voice that Amy forged and honed. Amy affirms that “I love gospel because gospel is so truthful, you know. I’m not religious, but there is nothing more pure than the relationship you have with your God. There is nothing stronger than that, apart from your love of music. Gospel is very inspirational.”

With the actual full performances in the film of “Back To Black”, “Love Is a Losing Game”, and “Tears Dry On Their Own”, Ms. Winehouse pulls a performance from deep inside of herself, she’s singing what she has lived – pages from her life. She offers a cute, naughty little smirk when she croons “Rehab”. As she finishes “Me and Mr. Jones”, she repeats an adorable curtsy, bowing as if she is back at school. This is an entirely winning performance that melts the heart.

amy winehouse in st james church dingle, december 2006

The documentary itself is exceptional, not at all a typical concert film interspersed with talking heads. More, the film is a celebration of the human being Amy Winehouse and her triumph as a performer, not delving at all into her troubles or tragic end. “ She was such so ‘unwhat’ she was represented in the tabloids, and we don’t care about that, and we weren’t interested in any of that and still aren’t”, tells music Producer Aoife Woodlock of “Other Voices”, whom Amy requested hold up Amy’s hair while she back-combed/teased it to achieve the high hairdo she used as her trademark (no doubt in tribute to Ronnie Spector).

There’s no shortage of profound reflection of that day in Dingle. “Amy sang to entertain us”, Phillip King remarks, “but also”, he confesses, “Amy sang the blues away. She used her gift to still her trembling soul”. Rev. Mairt Hanley suggests that Amy, like many artists, takes it to the edge and sings being on the edge, but he ponders on whether Amy found that “safe place”. He worries of her not finding a resolution, as many artists do. Woodlock remembers how Amy Winehouse touched so many that day in Dingle just being herself. “It’s just brilliant that she came with her spindly little legs and her mental hair and sang her heart out in Kerry for us. Brilliant, absolutely Brilliant!”

At the end, she was a beautiful powerhouse, and yet a funny down to earth girl. Phillip King closes with “We all knew that we were in the presence of greatness, but when she first arrived we sort of tiptoed around her, not knowing what to expect. But all she wanted was a packet of crisps”.

Technical production aspects are perfect in a wonderful location. Sharp crisp images, great lighting, smooth precise editing, wonderfully realized sound. HIGHLY recommended.

Screening with:

First Lesson In Love | Tomer Werechson | Israel | 2012 | 8m
Worlds collide when a young girl meets a street musician at a Jerusalem train station.

Series: New York Jewish Film Festival 2014

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January 22, 2014 - Posted by | CULTURE, FILM, GUIDES, opportunity, We Recommend | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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