Soderbergh: Retiring from Movies?!

I just read on The Huffington Post yesterday that director Steven Soderbergh is seriously contemplating retiring from Hollywood to become a painter. The first thing that came to mind was (sadly) Brett Favre and all of the other famous athletes who have proclaimed a hasty “retirement” only to come back to their sacred ground before the new season even begins. So my feeling here is that although I’m sure Mr. Soderbergh is genuine in his feelings for wanting to explore new artistic ground, I’m sure that in due time the lure of money and familiarity of making movies will suck him back in. And this, for most movie buffs, is a good thing.

I vividly remember seeing Soderbergh’s feature-length debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape 22 years ago (Jeez, has it been that long?!). To this day, I think this is one of the strongest debuts of any director to come out in the last 50 years and remains one of his strongest efforts. To his credit, Soderbergh is one of the few filmmakers who dare to explore new ground and take artistic risks with new experiments. They may not all work or make for great movies (see Full Frontal or The Girlfriend Experience), but you tip your cap to a man seeking to push the boundaries and test new concepts. His style has a unique vision and “look” to it – the lighting in his films and use of color always stand out and immediately tells you that you are watching a Soderbergh film. Since Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the Oscar-winner has made some of the strongest films over the past two decades, including (the often-overlooked) Out of Sight, King of the Hill, Traffic, and Erin Brockovich – all mostly coming in his earlier years. The last decade – which includes the insulting Ocean’s Twelve and his poorly received Che – has not been nearly as impressive. I enjoyed Ocean’s Eleven thoroughly. It is a stylish, well-made film, but also a helluva lot of fun too with a terrific all-star cast. It wasn’t until the subsequent two sequels that I felt he perhaps “sold out” just a bit, and this is a shame because he still is one of America’s finest directors.

But I digress. Announcing your retirement from Hollywood? Is this not a wee bit dramatic? David Lynch manages to balance a number of artistic mediums. He makes a film every few years (and the rarity of it makes a new release of his seem more like an event), while still dedicating himself to his other artistic outlets such as painting, photography, and music. Lynch is a true artist – and can never be accused of being a sell-out by anyone. With three films currently in pre-production and his movie Contagion set for release, it will be interesting to see how Soderbergh segues into his new endeavor, if he does at all. The trailer for Contagion (see below) is very intriguing and personally, I can’t wait to see it. It has the look of being his best in years, but I won’t get ahead of myself.

I hope that Soderbergh proves to be more Michael Jordan (or Joaquin Phoenix, if you will) and less Barry Sanders when it comes to the act of retiring — because it would be a shame not to have his films to look forward to. I have a feeling this is all much ado about nothing — and coincidentally garnering much publicity at the very time his new film is set to be released. For fans of the director, I wouldn’t let this get to you and I wouldn’t be overly distressed. He’ll be back – -just cross your fingers that it isn’t for an Ocean’s 14.

On the Radar: George Clooney in ‘The Descendants’

Summer movie season is my least favorite time to go to the theater. The only good thing about it is when the summer starts to fade out and the excitement of the new Fall releases begins to percolate. These are usually the movies I want to see and this year looks no different. One film that I am especially excited about is The Descendants – and if you watch the trailer below, you’ll have a good idea as to why that is. First off, it is the first feature-length film written and directed by Alexander Payne since the amazing Sideways (2004), a film I thought belonged in the Top 10 movies of the decade. His short film, “14e Arrondissement” was, in my opinion, the very best to be included in Paris Je T-Aime. And now The Descendants, which looks like it has award nominations written all over it.

The movie looks like a tremendous vehicle for George Clooney. I have always liked Clooney, but have always felt that he fits ‘too easily’ in the roles that he takes on – even in those roles in which he has garnered much critical praise from. I am always thinking that, although quite convincing, he could have played these roles (Up in the Air, Three Kings, Out of Sight) in his sleep. From the looks of it, Matt King, the character he plays in The Descendants, gets him out of his comfort zone just a bit – and we, the audience, can perhaps have greater empathy for him this time around. Here, Clooney is trying to re-connect with his adolescent daughters after his wife suffers a terrible accident and falls into a coma. We can see that his relationship with his girls is strenuous at best – and when one of them breaks the news to him that their mom was having an affair, it shatters his world.

I can’t wait for the release of this movie. It looks like the typical grand fare that we have come to expect from Payne (Election and About Schmidt) – a wonderful blend of the tragic and lighthearted; heartbreaking and quite funny – with a pitch-perfect script and wonderfully sculpted characters to surround Clooney. I’m sure the Fall movies will bring with it much competition for Payne’s latest work – but for right now, I am eager to see what this movie brings.

Forget “Glee”: This Movie Shows the Real Deal!

I do not watch the television show Glee and I thank my lucky stars for that. I once had the misfortune of watching an episode (sorry, Tara) and remember trying to comprehend the reason for its enormous popularity. As a theater teacher and director, it all seemed so phony and so exaggerated to me. I couldn’t help but feel insulted as a viewer. From my experience, this was not a genuine reflection of the arts and musical theatre in the high school arena.

I’ve had many jobs in my life and I can say with absolute certainty that being a high school English and theater teacher was the most challenging job I ever had. But even with the many difficulties, obstacles, and hardships that I encountered directing the school’s theatrical productions each year, it was also the most rewarding work experience I have ever had – by far. Whether it was for the school’s annual musical or a scene worked on in drama class, the level of talent these kids displayed never ceased to amaze and confound me. The experience also proved to me that, when given the opportunity, kids of any age, from any background, can accomplish nearly anything. So many of my former students – several of whom I still keep in contact with and am forever grateful for knowing — inspired me to work harder to make our productions look as professional as possible. The experiences are cemented in my memory and I will take with me wherever I go – all because of the remarkable students I had.

So why am I sharing this personal information here on my film blog? Well, I recently watched the documentary Most Valuable Players directed by Matthew D. Kallis – and I must say, as a person who works in theatre and has taught HS drama, that I was moved and inspired by this rousing little film. The movie follows three (of the competing 27) high school theatre troupes in Lehigh Valley, PA on their way to the annual Freddy Awards, which are treated like the Tony Awards of high school musicals in the area. Like many areas across the country, Lehigh Valley is a sports-driven community – so much money, press, and attention is spent on athletics. This is a great thing. However, many school districts in our country have had severe budget cuts to their performing arts departments – some schools wiping the arts off the map completely. This is not a great thing and in fact, quite sad as the performing arts can provide so much to our youth, as illustrated in Kallis’ film.

I was amazed at the tremendous enthusiasm throughout the community surrounding the Freddy Awards – and not just from the students participating. The nominations are announced live on local television – and the ceremony itself is televised live and broadcast to millions of local homes. And just look at how packed that theatre gets for this annual event! The ceremony is held at the historic State Theatre in Easton, PA and is the brainchild of former PBS producer Shelley Brown. Shelley is in much of the documentary and her level of commitment to the arts, the Freddy’s, the students, and the community is beyond reproach. Watching the film, I couldn’t help but wish I was still directing high school students in wonderful musicals and plays – for no other reason than seeing the joy in all of their faces and the level of commitment made by faculty and students alike.

Most Valuable Players may not be the most important documentary made this year – but it does serve as a wake-up call concerning arts education in America. It shows us why the performing arts must remain in our schools and offered to young people who want to take part. Sure, the Freddy Awards provide these students with added incentive to push even harder (and the competitive nature of the ceremony is touched upon) – but really, you can clearly see just how dedicated they would be without them. As for the theatre instructors, their allegiance to their kids and exemplary work ethic is a wonder to watch. I only wish that every school district took part in something very much like this – it would make a significant difference in the lives of so many.

And the Good News: You don’t have to wait for Most Valuable Players to play at an art-house theater near you — or come out on Blu-Ray and DVD. The film was picked up by Oprah’s Winfrey’s channel (OWN) — and you can watch it Thursday, September 8th at 9:00pm EST. If you are a theatre-lover, an educator, a student, or (heaven forbid) actually watch Glee — this movie is a must-see!


Friday Flashback: The Great Dictator (1940)

At the risk of sounding like a genuine Film Snob, I must admit that I shake my head in disappointment at those who think that films like The Hangover, Wedding Crashers, and Superbad are among the funniest films of all-time. This is not to say that these movies – and recent films of their kind – are not funny. They certainly are – and I enjoy them very much. But when I watch a film like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (which I had the extreme pleasure of re-visiting last week), I am once again reminded of what truly brilliant comedies are made of. I very rarely use the word “genius.” In fact, I think the term may only apply to a mere handful of artists in the history of movie-making. And cinematic pioneer Charlie Chaplin is indeed one of those few.

Chaplin insisted on making silent films for years – even long after The Jazz Singer revolutionized movies and the “talkie” sound era began. With The Great Dictator (in which he wrote, produced, directed, starred and co-composed the score), Chaplin made his first true talking picture – and boy did he have a lot to say. Not only laugh-out-loud funny, the movie was the very first film of its time to use biting satire against the Nazi regime and in particular, Adolf Hitler. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, The Great Dictator has long been considered a true classic of the cinema – and for good reason. The movie was also selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1997 for being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

With The Great Dictator, it’s as if outspoken Chaplin thumb-tacked images of Hitler and the swastika emblem on the wall and zipped dart after dart into them. It’s a scathing commentary on Nazism and on dictators like Hitler and Mussolini. On top of this, the film is hysterically funny (featuring some of film’s most classic comedic moments & scenes), and yes, even romantic (typical Chaplin). Chaplin takes on two roles here – and does a marvelous job in both (earning a well-deserved “Best Actor” Oscar nom). As the Jewish barber who has been hospitalized for 20 years after a plane crash during WWI, Chaplin’s character returns to his beloved barbershop in the Jewish ghetto, but because he has suffered severe memory loss, has no idea how drastically the world has changed and how brutally the Jews are treated. Oblivious to his societal status, the barber (who, Chaplin swore at the time, was not a representation of his infamous Little Tramp character despite obvious resemblances) stands up to the harsh stormtroopers who continue to invade the ghetto and humiliate its citizens.

Chaplin also plays the fascist dictator Adenoid Hynkel, leader of Tomania (an allusion to ptomaine poisoning), and a riotous lampoon of Hitler. Chaplin’s Hynkel is wildly funny, though he does not mean to be. He is also terribly insecure, always seeking the advice of his Minister of Interior Garbitsch (pronounced “garbage” and wonderfully played by Henry Daniell) who is modeled after Joseph Goebbels. Jackie Oakie plays Benzino Napaloni, dictator of Bacteria, with showy arrogance. Hynkel and Napaloni are fighting over who will take over Osterlich (Austria) and the battle of wits between the two makes for some funny sequences. Billy Gilbert plays the feeble Minister of War (talk about your paradoxes) Herring, who is the subject of much of Hynkel’s abuse. Rounding out the lead cast is the beautiful Paulette Goddard who plays Hannah, a fearless resident of the ghetto and the object of the barber’s affection.

The scene that the film is most famous for is the one when Hynkel dances with a large, balloon-like globe, while he fantasizes about overtaking the world. He does this to Wagner’s Lohengrin, and at the very end of the sequence, the balloon, of course, pops. The scene I can’t get enough of – and I think it’s one of the funniest scenes in film history, is Hynkel’s first speech to his people – and Chaplin’s wonderful mockery of the German language. It’s an extraordinary scene that showcases the comedic brilliance and wonderful acting abilities of Charlie Chaplin. Do yourself a favor, and watch the video below.

The Great Dictator is no doubt a phenomenal cinematic achievement. Chaplin was never one to back down and was very politically-minded (see J. Edgar Hoover). Here, he has created one of the very best satires of all-time, not to mention one of our very best comedies. For those unfamiliar with Chaplin’s prolific canon of work, I would recommend The Great Dictator be your introduction to his genius. He does lay it on a bit thick at the end (when his barber gives the speech imploring Hannah to look up to the skies above), and though a bit melodramatic, I can forgive this as it is simply Chaplin speaking to his audience. Watching it again reminded me that, yes it’s funny watching a woman shit in a sink — but it is the stuff of Charlie Chaplin that remains timeless, original, important, and yes, remarkably funny, now 70+ years later.

Friday Flashback: Vampire Circus (1972)

Vampire CircusVampire Circus

87 min
Director: Robert Young
Cast: Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters, Anthony Higgins, David Prose


The 70’s were a very strange time for film – and for horror in particular.  Prior to the late-1960’s most horror fell into a pretty standard motif. Most were period pieces with classic monsters and relatively tame violence (at least by today’s standards).  But the 60’s saw radical changes in the horror film.  With classics like Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead, the horror had not only moved into our modern times, but to the very house next door.

The prototypical Hammer vampire: Exaggerated fangs and ruby-red blood.

So it’s interesting and rare to see a period horror film in the 1970’s, especially one that’s not attempting tongue-in-cheek parody of the genre. I’ve always been a fan of Hammer Studios and their body of work.  For those of you unfamiliar, Hammer is a UK-based studio known almost exclusively for its horror productions and in particular its reimagining of many of the famous Universal monster ensemble (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, etc.).  Hammer saw its greatest output from the mid-50s to the mid-70s thanks in large part to the frequent casting of Christopher Lee (usually in the role of Dracula) and Peter Cushing (usually in the role of Dr. Frankenstein or Dracula’s nemesis Dr. Van Helsing).  These greats embody the essence of Hammer and account for some of Hammer’s best performances, even when the material is not quite up to their legendary status.

Vampire Circus doesn’t feature Lee or Cushing. Count Mitterhaus is not nearly as frightening, in name or performance, as Dracula. And with the tagline: “The Greatest Blood-show on Earth” the movie pretty much sets itself up for potential that is nealry impossible to deliver.

Beware Count Mitterhaus!

The story goes something like this: The Count, living in the requisite creepy castle just outside of the village, seduces the local women into luring children to his lair in which to feed upon.  After losing his daughter, Professor Albert Müller convinces the other townsfolk that the time has come to raid the count’s castle and get rid of the scourge.  After an awkwardly staged battle, the Count ends up with a stake in the heart and his castle is burned to the ground… problem solved!  But, not so fast! Fifteen years later, a plague is ravaging the village.  The avengers assume it’s a curse bestowed upon them in the Count’s dying breath, but the local doctor isn’t buying it.  He feels that if he can get to a city, he can procure some medical treatments for the ailing, but the town has been quarantined by the surrounding settlements and anyone attempting to flee is shot on-sight.  The doctor, using his son as bait, manages to escape.

At the same time, a mysterious traveling circus comes through town.  Even though their arrival is suspicious, the villagers initially welcome the distraction from their fears of the plague.  The circus features a clown-faced dwarf, bizarre acrobatic performers, and panthers that seemingly morph into people. Amused at first, town leaders become horrified when young children start disappearing and turning up dead.  Of course, this is the work of vampires led by shape-shifter Emil, who turns out to be the Count’s cousin.  Their plan is to drain enough blood from the villagers’ children to revive the Count. 

No cross? No problem. A trusty crossbow will do.

Does the scheme work?  Will the villages be rid of their dreadful plague or will darkness consume them?  Will Count Mitterhaus rise from the grave and avenge his death or will the townsfolk again be victorious against the evil circus clan?  Although you probably have a good idea, if you really want to know, you’ll have to watch the film yourself.

Overall, it really isn’t that bad.  Rated PG, it has a surprising amount of graphic violence and nudity for its time, though mostly harmless (and hokey) by today’s standards.  The pacing and characterizations could be better and the presence of a heavy-weight performance by Lee or Cushing is missed.  It’s definitely a curiosity and it’s only through curiosity (and Hammer completists) that I would recommended it over many of the other entries in Hammer’s long catalog. 

As a final aside – it’s worth noting that the cast includes Lynne Frederick – future wife of Peter Sellers, and the circus strongman is played by David Prowse who would go on to portray the physical embodiment of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Finally, for additional perspective on the film, check out this very clever post: What I Learned From Vampire Circus.

Another Needless Reboot? Oh Joy…

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but can someone please tell me what is the point of rebooting the Spiderman franchise? I know there can only be one answer, which is money (probably tons of it, which is sad in itself), but if you can give me a better explanation, I’d love to hear it. I thought Sam Raimi‘s first two Spidey films were pretty darn excellent — never mind the third one, which was an absolute disgrace. I understand they were making a fourth and that was cancelled. Now comes The Amazing Spider-Man, scheduled for release in the summer of 2012. I know I have asked this many times before on this very website, but…is Hollywood really that desperate and so lacking in the original scripts department? If so, I have a couple of treatments sitting right on my desk.

I can understand why Marc Webb would sign on to direct this. He was behind the wonderful (500) Days of Summer and a project like Spiderman could potentially put him on the Hollywood A-List for blockbuster films. I get that. Andrew Gardfield is a wonderful actor – I have enjoyed his work thus far and yes, he actually fits the part of Peter Parker quite well. They’ve also made sure to sign on a number of other very gifted Thespians to join in, including Martin Sheen, Campbell Scott, Sally Field, Denis Leary, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, and Julianne Nicholson (who I absolutely adore). Pretty nice cast. The trailer? It looks equally impressive — and if there were not three very recent Spiderman films, I would be super excited to see this.

My problem? Other than a few tweaks here and there…a new character introduced here, a different subplot there – what is point of all of this? I remember back in 2006 when I was duped into seeing Superman Returns with Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey. It looked new. It looked nice. But I walked out asking, “What was the friggin’ point?!” It didn’t vary very much at all from the original 1978 film and quite frankly, wasn’t nearly as good. In essence, it was the same story of Clark Kent from beginning to end – just snazzier looking. I will not be duped again in July 2012.

In the end, it’s about the money. I understand that and I can appreciate the business that is Hollywood. But that doesn’t mean I have to fall for the trick. Each of us has the right to purchase a ticket to see a concert, a sporting event, a theatrical piece, and yes, a movie. We also have the right to stay away and not buy a ticket…to stand up and make the statement that we will not go to the multiplex to see anything you put on our plate. As an audience, we should be smarter than that and demand more. The upcoming Spiderman film bothers me. It is telling me that Hollywood execs think so low of us that we will buy  re-tread after re-tread. What bothers me even more — is that much of America probably will.

Remembering Amy Winehouse: by William Buhagiar

I can still remember, quite vividly, the first time I heard “Rehab” playing on the radio. For an hour or so after, I refused to allow it to vacate my memory. It stuck with me. Amidst all the generic, repetitive and ultra-manufactured pop music that tried so desperately to project nauseatingly boring bubble-gum perfection, here was a singer that so honestly, brutally, and beautifully sang of her flaws. It was a clever, catchy, wise-ass melody that was undoubtedly the most distinct tune I’ve ever heard on mainstream radio. Aside from being impressed with the lyrics, I can remember thinking: “My God, whose voice is that?”

For the following month or so, “Rehab” stayed amongst the Top 40 radio songs and I found myself constantly singing the chorus without noticing just how frequently I was doing it. Eventually I managed to catch the music video for “You Know I’m No Good,” and glimpsed the harbor for that divine, magnificent voice for the very first time. A comically enormous black beehive, frail arms covered in ink, long fingernails clicking along the rim of a glass of iced whiskey – it was Amy Winehouse, and anything but what I imagined her to be. Immediately, my level of intrigue skyrocketed. If “Rehab” ignited in me an insatiable level of curiosity, it was nothing compared to the effect “You Know I’m No Good” had. I was now familiar with only two songs from this sultry songstress, the first being a defiant anthem of her refusal to quit drinking get help and enter rehabilitation, and the second being a wildly unfiltered confession of her infidelity.

Soon she was on the cover of Rolling Stone and Spin, among others, accompanied by the subtitles “The Diva & Her Demons” and “The Dangerous New Queen of Soul,” respectively. And even though at the time I was only a fan of two songs of hers, I was nonetheless thrilled when she won five Grammy awards after her performance on February 10th, 2008 – at least somebody unique was getting praised for it.

A few months later, I was advised by a friend to listen to her first album, Frank, released in England in 2004. After hearing one song from the record, “You Sent Me Flying,” I needed no further convincing. The song was yet another brazenly honest re-telling of an incident that occurred during a crumbling relationship, with the lyrics: “And although my pride’s not easily disturbed, you sent me flying when you kicked me to the curb.” Immediately, I rushed home and hungrily downloaded every available Amy Winehouse song I could get my hands on, and instantly became passionately obsessed. Her gritty and modern lyrics were paired with classical, old-fashioned jazz instrumentals, essentially creating a musical dichotomy. The music sounded as if it was created decades earlier, but the songs would begin with “He left no time to regret, kept his dick wet with his same old, safe bet…” and “What kind of fuckery is this?” It was without a doubt the most unique ensemble of songs I had ever discovered, and I fell deeply in love with this no-bullshit, bad-ass British diva with the voice of an angel and the mouth of a truck driver who refused to make excuses for herself.

It began to irritate me that this remarkable talent was ferociously overshadowed by her well-publicized battles with drugs and alcohol, and every time I Googled her (which was a mandatory, daily ritual) I would always seem to be reading the most unflattering material. Because of how devoted I was to her music, it really was very easy for me to overlook it, and I convinced myself that it was simply tabloid fodder; that she would soon come out on top and promptly announce the release of a third album or impending tour dates. Whenever I would bring her up in conversation, I would constantly have to sift through the dismissals of her being a casualty of addiction to get to the reasons why I adored her: her music. Unfortunately, I still have to do this.

My adoration remained steadfast, and I hunted feverishly for more of her music. I scaled the most obscure corners of the internet and found underground, unreleased original songs, b-sides, covers and studio sessions – anything to hear more of that voice I came to worship. Her unreleased material was equally as satisfying as her albums. I found myself falling in love with not just her music, but the jazz, soul and R&B genre as a whole; in fact, many artists I regularly listen to now are the product of my interest in Amy Winehouse. I memorized her entire discography – each of her songs, an eloquent expression of her turmoil, all of them blazingly honest, and I couldn’t help but be captivated by the painful and undeniably beautiful humanity presented in all of her gorgeous melodies. Some of them were witty and very funny, such as “Addicted,” a jazzy tune all about her annoyance at a friend’s man smoking all of her weed; others were downtrodden and defeated, such as “Back to Black,” in which her grief is so severe she croons she “died a hundred times.” The Los Angeles Times very accurately labeled her “The Beautiful Voice of Despair.” Amy Winehouse had on me that bold, profound effect musicians have on every person who connects with their music, the connection that inspires the listener to think: “I get it.” I cannot think of a higher compliment to pay an artist, especially the artist who so magnetically utilized the word “fuckery.” Two years ago, in July of 2009, I decided to make my fanatical love for Amy Winehouse a permanent fixture, getting a caricature-like portrait of her tattooed on my left arm.

One week ago, while at work, I received 22 text messages and 8 missed calls within fifteen minutes – each either informing me of her death or curious as to how I was coping with it. I’m well aware of how perfectly ridiculous it seems to be bereaved to this level of extremity over somebody I’ve never met before, but I cannot stress how genuine it is. I remember the televised grief of Michael Jackson’s fans after his passing and my complete lack of empathy towards them, certain that I was incapable of mourning a stranger to that degree. The loss of Amy Winehouse is my first acquaintance with the death of a beloved artist; I will never see her in concert, and I will never get the chance to meet her and show her that her work profoundly impacted me so much that the only reasonable way of expressing it was permanently inking her into my arm. She joins Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison in “The 27 Club,” as she, like all of them, passed away at the age of 27. The only positive factor I can seem to apply to this is that she will always be remembered as a musical legend, as she deserves to be.

Amy Winehouse, to me, was never first and foremost an addict, an alcoholic, or the self-destructive nut-job the tabloids so frequently illustrated her as. She was a breathtaking talent, a musical genius, the most unique artist in years – a girl from the suburbs of London gifted with a voice that was blissful beyond comprehension. Unfortunately, she had her demons – but it was her demons that made her Amy Winehouse, and it was her demons that she embedded into her songs and so aptly translated into musical beauty.

It’s been reported that a dozen or so new and unreleased material has been discovered since her passing, one of which will be used for the next “James Bond” film. I pray that I will be hearing these new tracks soon, as I have been patiently waiting for new Amy Winehouse songs for years. Many fellow musicians and celebrities have also expressed their sadness over the loss of such an incredible talent; some, such as Adele and Lady Gaga, thanking her and crediting her with being a musical pioneer, paving the way and making it easier for the more unconventional artist to establish a career. Her groundbreaking, phenomenal second album, Back to Black, is now #1 on iTunes and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since her tragic passing. I can only hope that now her music will be properly appreciated and her struggles with drugs and alcohol no longer the dominant aspect of her persona.

Of course, I never did get the privilege of meeting her, but judging by the copious amounts of interviews and footage I have seen, she was a charming, witty and hilarious woman. Backstage after one of her performances, a reporter asked her: “What did you think of your performance this evening?” to which she quickly replied, “It was a piece of shit. You look fit, though.” and walked away. During another interview, when asked if she considered herself a sex symbol, she instantly replied, “Only to gays.” Amy made no excuses for herself, never once tried to fit the mold of a proper pop artist, and always maintained a no-bullshit philosophy I cannot help but deeply admire and respect.

Since her death, naturally I’ve been replaying her songs constantly. If possible, my devotion to the soulful jazz singer has only increased. I’ll no longer enter her name in the Google search bar, hoping for news of an album release or tour dates. My worst fears regarding Amy Winehouse have been realized and she passed away at much too young an age. Now, my only hope for her is that wherever she is, she is still singing, and she is still maintaining that charismatic sense of making no excuses and tolerating no bullshit…or, as she so eloquently sang it: fuckery.

~~ by contributing writer, William Buhagiar

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