There were 3,346 drug-poisoning deaths registered in England and Wales in 2014 according to ONS. Of these, 67% of these drug misuse deaths involved illegal drugs. The mortality rate from drug misuse was the highest ever recorded in 2014, at 39.9 deaths per million population.
(All statistics taken from ONS)
It is a rarity these days if we open the paper and not read of yet another youth, adult, celebrity or music personality yielded to a drug related death, be it intentional or not. The accessibility of both illegal and legal drugs in this country is problematic. Sex, drugs and rock n roll, synonymous with the Rolling Stones and other rock stars raging lifestyle has almost become normalised. Keith Richards should not be labelled a ‘hero’ for somehow managing to not only be alive but still playing music despite his substance addictions, snorting everything known to mankind including his fathers ashes. This does not make him a Rock n Roll god; it just makes him bloody lucky.
Tom Hardy who overnight has become England’s front-page tabloid man has spoken candidly in the past about his drug addiction. In an article published by the Daily Mail Hardy is quoted as saying that he would ‘have sold my mother for crack’. He has been sober for ten years.
Some are not as lucky to have survived their addictions; one such victim was Grammy Award winner singer songwriter Amy Winehouse. She died of alcohol poisoning on 23 June 2011.
In 2003 Amy Winehouse launched her first album Frank. It was a critical success in the UK and she was nominated for a Mercury Prize. Her follow up album in 2006 Back to Black landed her five 2008 Grammy Awards.
The notoriety surrounding her drug abuse, alcoholism and tumultuous relationships were popular tabloid fodder. Her home in Camden became a common stakeout area for photographers and journalists alike. You could always count on Amy for a drama filled photo complete with beehive and smudged eyeliner. Her dichotomous public image and raw talent, combined with poor impulse control made for excellent front-page material.
A new documentary titled Amy was released earlier this year. It is a raw narrative of a troubled young artist shown through an exploitative lens. Critics applauded it with Robbie Collin from the Daily Telegraph branding it ‘piercingly sad, a honourable film’.
It is a remarkable documentary of a posthumous star. The musical genius of Amy Winehouse remains unparalleled yet the filmic canonising of a young woman who was haunted by alcohol and drug abuse is questionable.
Unlike many stars that manage to hide their substance abuse, Amy Winehouse was synonymous with hers. Some claim that her tumultuous lifestyle only increased her musical popularity, it certainly increased her notoriety.
There were moments during the documentary that were a little too tabloid scrapbook for my liking. Director by Asif Kapadia relied on montages of overlapping shots of Amy skinny and pumped with drugs too often. Furthermore, a final morbid shot of Amy’s body being taken from her Camden home was morose and held for slightly too long. It went from being an emotional and finite shot for the viewers to becoming sinister and uncomfortable.
If anything the documentary film Amy teaches the viewers the effects of a life filled with a turbulent relationship with alcohol and drugs. Looking at the former shots of Amy as a healthy and slightly chubby teenager only makes her final gaunt shots all the more sad. The fact that she was vulnerable to substance abuse, an abuse that could have been avoided, leaved the viewers with a feeling of wretchedness and despair. Amy is not about the musical talents of one of Britain’s greatest artists. It is a documentary that delves into her private life, a life clouded with alcohol addiction, lines of cocaine and heroin syringes. It is shown through a gritty, raw and exploitative private lens, which I agree with Robbie Collins from The Daily Telegraph, leaves the viewers ‘piercingly sad’.
Considering the high statistics of drug and alcohol related deaths in this country more documentary’s need to be made of this kind. We are a visual culture and respond well to explicit visual images. Art and film are excellent preventative measures as they visually expose the real effects of substance abuse. It may be difficult to watch, it is raw, stark and almost overwhelmingly real, but it needs to be shown, if only to prevent similar deaths in the future.