- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2015

“Why so soon?” often has been asked after the death of a young performer: Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and others.

Business manager Nick Shymansky pointedly applies the question to a new documentary about Winehouse that opens this weekend in the District. Simply titled “Amy,” it chronicles the short, sad but amazingly creative life of the British singer-songwriter.

“They started it a year after Amy died, so at the time I was like, ‘Why so soon?’” Mr. Shymansky told The Washington Times. “Leave her alone for a bit. And also [I was] just feeling really unresolved and angry and fed up with everything. So I didn’t see the point in it.”

Director Asif Kapadia applies a craftsman’s touch to the documentary, using the words but not the faces of his interview subjects over footage of Winehouse, who died in 2011 at age 27. One of the most-quoted subjects in the film is Mr. Shymansky, her long-suffering manager.

Amy” takes viewers through her Jewish upbringing in the Southgate area of London and her teenage years, as she found her voice as a jazz stylist and impressed record executives who scooped her up before she was 20. Then came the pain of an absent father, the depression, the drinking, the drugs, stints in rehab and self-destruction — all played out on the world stage.

The film features the voices of Winehouse’s parents, friends, fellow musicians, former lovers and music industry professionals, all offering their take on the unrivaled talents of the artist.

At first “completely disinterested” in taking part in the documentary, Mr. Shymansky changed his mind after meeting with Mr. Kapadia and watching some of his earlier films.

However, Mr. Shymansky had a stipulation for his participation: He refused to sign a release form until he had seen the finished product.

“I thought he’d just say, ‘Forget it,’” Mr. Shymansky said of Mr. Kapadia. “But to my surprise, he was very cool about it, very relaxed. So from that moment on, I sort of trusted him and just thought I’d do my best.”

In addition to providing commentary, Mr. Shymansky helped Mr. Kapadia in reconstructing the timeline of Winehouse’s life, often piecing together the chanteuse’s pre-fame life in the early 2000s.

“He sent me footage or photos,” Mr. Shymansky said, “[and] I’d help him identify who people were.”

Some of the found footage shows Winehouse as a happy-go-lucky teenager, joining her friends in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” that she quickly runs away with, counterpointing the melancholy of her final years.

Seeing the finished film for the first time, Mr. Shymansky became morose as he relived the spectacular fall of his client and friend.

“I actually felt a bit angry because it’s all there in front of me,” he said, “and none of this would quite do anything other [than reinforce that] Amy’s not here. It’s not like you can just watch it and feel better about anything, because the damage is done.

“But I felt relief that he hadn’t made some glossy film that paved over the cracks,” he said of Mr. Kapadia’s effort. “The strongest, most important thing is that you watch it and feel really close to Amy, whether it’s the happier, more fun [side] of it or whether it’s the really dark, scary, gross part of it — you’re close to the subject.”

Mr. Shymansky still misses Winehouse’s warmth and humor, which often fell victim to her mood swings and drug use, but he doesn’t miss seeing her face and life story continually splashed across the tabloids.

“I miss the real person,” he said, referring to the “other” person Winehouse became in the throes of her misery.

“I never really felt that even though we were talking, I never really felt I was connecting with the same person,” he said of her dark turns. “[I] felt like I always used to come from seeing her and think, ‘Where’s Amy? Where’s Amy gone?’”

Mr. Shymansky hopes the film will shine a light on Winehouse’s promising early years for a public already familiar with her public, chaotic final days. Also, he feels “Amy” may bring greater public awareness to the scourge of depression and mental illness, which affects so many.

“There didn’t ever seem to be any discussion during her life or after her life about mental health, depression,” Mr. Shymansky said. “Very often I’d get people who would say to me, ‘With a voice like that, with all that money, with all those awards, why wasn’t she happy?’

“Depression really [doesn’t] go away because you’re successful or you can sing or you’re famous. So hopefully, the film is just going to get a little bit more compassion for Amy and a bit more conversation [about treating depression],” he said.

Mr. Shymansky feels the film might spark a resurgence of interest in Winehouse’s music. Yet ever pragmatic, he believes that after the film closes in theaters, he will “disappear” back into his own music industry career while hoping the music he helped share with the world lives on.

“I just hope she gets the time and space to have a genuine legacy,” he said. “I know that you don’t come across an Amy very often.”


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