Will Amy Winehouse Biopic Ever Happen?

on July 23 2012 1:32 PM
Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse Reuters

Monday marked the first anniversary of Amy Winehouse's death, and ongoing interest in the ill-fated singer has made it ever more apparent that she will forever be counted alongside such dead-rocker icons as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain -- all members of the infamous 27 Club.

Of course, one surefire way to solidify Winehouse's legacy would be through an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll biopic -- Hollywood's time-honored method of immortalizing celebrated music figures with dramatized accounts of their lives and works. Rumors of a big-screen Winehouse treatment began to surface less than two weeks after her death, but the combination of music-rights management and the already-cumbersome development process of Hollywood movies makes the business of rock biopics a tricky one.

According to one report, Winehouse's father, Mitch, who owns the copyrights to his daughter's music, already indicated that he has no intention of allowing her music to be used on the big screen. It would hardly be a biopic without the music, and we'd never allow the songs to be released, he reportedly told the Daily Mail in December. However, Entertainment Weekly later quoted a Winehouse family spokesperson who denied that a biopic is out of the question, stating that the family would consider a film, but only one that would tell the truth.

To further complicate matters, the one filmmaker who reportedly expressed interest in directing a Winehouse movie now has bigger fish to fry. Reg Traviss, a British filmmaker who dated the singer, said in an interview last year that he had been approached by producers to possibly direct a Winehouse film. But Traviss is now facing two counts of rape for allegedly attacking a woman at his London home last New Year's Eve.

In terms of promoting an artist's legacy, rock biopics can be a mixed bag, with some earning widespread critical praise and others drawing harsh criticism for factual inaccuracies. Taylor Hackford's Ray nabbed Jamie Foxx an Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles, while Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy put a young Gary Oldman on the map as the troubled Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. But the latter film was also heavily condemned by Pistols singer Johnny Rotten in his 1994 biography. Rotten called the film the lowest form of life, blasting Cox for what he saw as a gross glorification of Vicious's heroin addiction. Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic of Jim Morrison was similarly criticized by the Doors' keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, who said Stone was more interested in creating a sensationalistic portrayal of Morrison as an out-of-control alcoholic rather than a more nuanced portrait of his complex life.   

Nevertheless, several high-profile rock biopics are currently in development. Tony-winning actress Nina Arianda is reportedly attached to star as Janis Joplin in the long-gestating biopic Janis. An upcoming biopic of Kurt Cobain has made several false starts, but appears to be in a period of suspended animation now that Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, has passed the rights to Nirvana's music to their daughter, Frances Bean. And on July 3, Rolling Stone reported that an upcoming Jimi Hendrix biopic, starring Outkast's Andre 3000, is currently in full production despite the fact that Hendrix's estate has not granted permission for his music to be used in the film.

Amy Winehouse, who skyrocketed to fame in 2006 with the enormously popular single Rehab, was found dead in her London home on July 23 of last year. The 27-year-old's cause of death was determined to be alcohol poisoning. Her posthumously released album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, debuted at number one on the U.K. charts and number five on the Billboard 200 -- proving that an Amy Winehouse biopic could potentially draw huge audiences on both sides of the pond. 

But if Mitch Winehouse's earlier testimony is any indication, those fans hoping to see Amy on the big screen may already have their answer: No, no, no.