Asif Kapadia’s Amy ★★★★
‘This is someone trying to disappear.’
Amy does not simply present a fuller picture of the iconic Amy Winehouse. Rather, Asif Kapadia provides us with intimate access to the fragile girl behind the stardom whilst simultaneously offering a powerful insight into the destructive side of celebrity culture.
Kapadia’s documentary reaches far beyond the media’s portrayal of Winehouse; alongside public interviews and acceptance speeches we see personal home videos and studio rehearsals, and hear from those who were closest to her—including her notorious ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil. Kapadia skilfully pieces these materials together to coherently depict Winehouse’s story, documenting her promising beginnings to tragic ending. In doing so, Amy both presents and penetrates the media’s one-dimensional picture of Winehouse as a self-destructive addict, enabling a deeper understanding of her true identity by providing us with access to her from all angles.
Sitting through some low-quality archive footage and occasional generic panning shots of London which accompany interview clips is certainly worthwhile for the feeling of authenticity created by these limited resources. This sense of realism is key to Amy’s appeal and is complimented by the soundtrack which acts as a narrative voice. As a singer-songwriter, Winehouse’s lyrics follow her life events, thereby strengthening the film’s impact as a moving piece of cinema whilst deepening our understanding of the star herself. We are encouraged to consider Winehouse as a person rather than to regard her as a musical icon, as these lyrics are not only part of her songs, but also tell her story.
Kapadia’s factual style—similar to that found in his BAFTA award-winning documentary Senna—results in a poignant absence of drama. Winehouse’s lifestyle and tragic fate is not glamorised for the sake of a rock ‘n’ roll tone or to pay tribute to the infamous 27 Club. Instead, Winehouse is sombrely depicted as a victim of our celebrity-mad society and aggressive harassment by the paparazzi. Amy also underscores the disconcerting role played by the singer’s father, Mitch Winehouse, who told the filmmakers, ‘you should be ashamed of yourselves’ for portraying him as a forceful managerial figure. As a result, Kapadia asks us to reconsider our preconceptions of Winehouse’s death as self-inflicted, instead portraying it as a tragic consequence of the pressures which surrounded her.
However, it should not be overlooked that the accounts given by those closest to the singer are inevitably biased, resulting in a documentary which dubiously implies Winehouse’s helplessness and innocence—glossing over her culpability in deciding to turn to such a damaging escape route.
Nevertheless, Amy successfully depicts and celebrates Winehouse’s vibrant personal life and career. What’s more, the film’s poignancy guarantees a moving experience for the viewer; in the screening you could have heard a pin drop as the audience was gripped throughout, and many left with a tear in their eye.
If nothing else, this documentary will reignite an interest in Winehouse’s work and lead you to acknowledge the loss of a stunning musical talent.