Those looking for a straightforward concert film may be thrown by Maurice Linnane’s BBC documentary “Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle.” Certainly the songstress, who died in 2011, is shown in top form during this 2006 appearance, delivering soulful renditions of “Back to Black” and other standouts for the delectation of some 80 souls in the small church of an Irish fishing village. But much of the documentary is concerned with placing the artist and the playdate in context, and exploring what made Winehouse’s performance in Dingle so special. At just under an hour, the film seems best suited to fest and tube play.
Striking panoramas of a remote seaside town at the edge of the world are interspersed with explanations of how Dingle’s Other Voices festival became such an illustrious televised musical platform. The pastor of St. James’ Church, program officials and bass guitarist Dale Davis, one of the only two musicians accompanying Winehouse (the other being guitarist Robin Banerjee), describe the wondrous effect that the simple, intimate setting had on the singer, reminding her of her early club dates and providing a respite from her flashy, increasingly unruly concert appearances.
Winehouse’s six-song set amply corroborates these witnesses’ enthusiastic testimony, moving from rousing defiance to wistful sadness as she delivers “Rehab,” “Tears Dry on Their Own,” “Love Is a Losing Game” and “Me and Mr. Jones,” ending with a transformative reprise of her opening, “Back to Black.”
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In a relaxed, contemplative interview with Other Voices’ John Kelly after the set, Winehouse, then 23, talks about the jazz, blues, gospel and R&B artists she listened to during her not-very-distant teenage years, thanks to her brother’s eclectic tastes in music. Extended, well-chosen footage of the performers whom Winehouse passionately praises are deftly interpolated, allowing viewers to see her style in relationship to evolving musical traditions, and to enjoy some uninterrupted moments with the artists she loved.
Mahalia Jackson, tears and sweat running down her face, plunges wholeheartedly into “Didn’t It Rain”; Sarah Vaughn throatily croons “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”; and Carleen Anderson, caressing the piano keys, advises “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Clips from Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk and contemporary jazz saxophonist Soweto Kinch round out the “Winehouse influence” tour.
For fans and non-fans alike, Linnane’s “Dingle,” eschewing post-mortem sentimentality, chronicles an important, atypically tranquil moment in Amy Winehouse’s short, tumultuous career.