"I'm not a girl trying to be a star, I'm just a girl that sings."
It would be hard to thing of a musical artist in recent years that managed to achieve even half of the success, fame and cultural impact of Amy Winehouse in even twice the time that she had to do it. Speaking as someone who isn’t exactly crazy about her music, one may think that a documentary like this can only be for people who loved her music, but rest assured this can be venerated on so many levels.
An in depth examination and view of Amy Winehouse’s final years, dealing with her own success, personal issues and how her friends, relatives and critics reacted to it told through new interviews and archive footage.
The best way to sell this movie is to point out that it’s from the Director of ‘Senna’, a film that impressed everyone from Formula 1 fanatics to those who had no interest in the sport. The racing was a backdrop for this character study of competitiveness and passion, ‘Amy’ is very similar. She was a soul style musician with the life style of a rock and roll artist from the 1970s. With her name on the front of newspapers just as often as it was on albums many misconceptions have built up about her over the years.
I don’t need to tell you that this is a sensitive subject, but like ‘Senna’ the film deal less with the whole talent-cut-down-in-their-prime feel, it has the nerve to actually hold up an uneasy mirror to the admirers of its titular character. His last film asked why fans wold watch racers put themselves in danger consistently and repeatedly, and Asif Kapidia’s latest film asks questions concerning judgement and artistic integrity as well as dealing with triumph and the celebrity lifestyle. It may also act as a critique of the way in which modern society sometimes mocks and ridicules these genuinely talented people. One particularly heartfelt moment comes from a piece of footage with a young Winehouse in which she laughs ‘I don’t think I’ll be at all famous. I’d go mad.’
What Kapidia does so successfully is drop his audience into the centre of the situation to witness an progressively fragile and unhinged artist as the world around her slowly dissolves, guaranteeing a profound sense of responsibility and involvement with the late singer. It does this so well that on more than one occasion I found myself forgetting that I already knew the sad and inevitable outcome of her death, believing that the ‘writers’ would give us a happy ending. In other words it’s such a good documentary that I made me forget that it was a documentary.
Kapidia undoubtedly has a gift for telling documentary’s on a personal level. Amidst the glamour and range of the music industry around her, the media that followed her every move and the fans that worshiped her, he tells this pure and ultimately tragic story. At the same time though he allows the obscurity of reminisced incidents to have their say, making it more than a simplistic story and turning it into one of more complexity, detail and depth. It can be a tough watch at times, with one example being the singer bundled into a private jet to a concert in Belgrade where she struggles to stand upright.
Even more impressive is the proficiency of the technical aspect of the film. By unearthing old archive footage we get a first-hand look at the inner turmoil she experienced and the constant clash of her personal and professional life. The way that it’s edited together is a masterclass, it plays out more like a collage of information and personal struggles. Don’t be mistaken, telling a story through existing footage is very difficult. You have to know how to place it and cut it in a way that is only made more difficult by the fact that you didn’t shoot it and it can rest entirely on you concerning how to set a tonal mood for it.
A pulsating and engrossing look at an admired figure with a definite poignancy that forms a haunting and heart-breaking documentary but most of all there’s an underlying and unspeakable sadness that is certainly present, but never completely engulfs.