Asif Kapadia rose to prominence with his incredibly successful ‘Senna’, a work that won the BAFTA for best documentary and captured the hearts of many people who were both Formula 1 fans and fans of the man himself, and those who were not particularly invested in the subject before but certainly were by the end. This makes it clear that Kapadia has a talent for turning what looks like a specialist subject in to something that everyone can engage with, tapping in to the human side of his subjects and extracting the passion and the power of the story, making it less a tale of a particular field but more of human endeavour and tragedy. Five years on from that breakout triumph, Kapadia gives Amy Winehouse’s story the same treatment, making his telling of her journey a must-see regardless of whether you have ever had a particular fondness for Winehouse’s work.
The guiding feature of ‘Amy’ is Kapadia’s use of Winehouse’s own lyrics to guide his telling of her tale, which both gives us an insight in to how personal her work was and connects the story back to the fact that Winehouse was an extremely successful artist, her powerful voice a throwback to an era seemingly lost. They coax the film forward almost from the very beginning, where Winehouse is nothing more than an unknown fooling around with friends, haphazard lyrics sketched out in bedraggled notebooks, through to her final years where she’s playing in front of massive audiences and fighting a whole army of personal problems. The film is unapologetic for the fact that it knows it’s leading you to ruin, and highlights the fact that this correlation between fame and unhappiness was always something Winehouse feared. Its wonderfully edited stock footage together with audio clips from those closest to her make for a fascinating and heartbreaking experience of a woman unable to extricate herself from a whirlpool of despair.
It’s curious that Winehouse’s troubles helped her write her most successful and final album, 2006’s ‘Back to Black’, and that if her troubles were dealt with before that stage as various people say they should have been in the film, people may not have got to experience a work that resonated so resoundingly with so many. Winehouse’s tale always had her musical talent and personal issues intertwined, and she states herself that her music comes from the heart as she pours her insecurities and perceived personal failures in to her work. It’s only after her second album that the fame becomes too much even to use creatively, the intense scrutiny of the media and the public taking a toll on someone already so vulnerable.
Ultimately, ‘Amy’ is a relentlessly striking film that isn’t afraid to really hit home emotionally but never feels like it’s trying to teach you a lesson, Kapadia doing a great job of presenting the images and sounds to you and letting the different perspectives wash over you, allowing you to think about them freely. It’s by no means a bombastic, sensationalist film, but instead one of caring and power that doesn’t shy away from portraying a life that was remarkable in terms of musical talent and yet was horribly connected with a darker, tragic side that festered for too log, ultimately ending in much-publicised heartbreak.
To see when the film is showing click here