I am not a big fan of Amy Winehouse. I never thought she was the musical great that everyone made her out to be and her untimely death seemed to elevate her to an undeserved status of some kind of poet genius. A tortured soul too good for this Earth. I’m starting my review with that unpopular sentiment because I can now say that this documentary has forced me to revise my opinion somewhat. I’m still not a complete convert, but there’s plenty of footage here to remind you of what a great voice, and sense of humour, this young woman had. And what major problems.
Director Asif Kapadia uses all of the resources available to him (home video footage, phone messages, TV footage) to create a full, rounded portrait of a young artist who became way more successful than she ever dreamed of . . . . . . . . . because she never dreamed of it. It comes up again and again in the documentary, Amy Winehouse craved the joy of music. She never craved actual fame, and certainly not in the way that it has to be dealt with today – under a constant lightning storm of camera flashbulbs.
What Kapadia does so well here is the way in which he shows Amy Winehouse from her youthful, exuberant beginnings. We get to see her talent nurtured and rise to the fore, although it never comes along with ego (despite times when she puts on a tough front), and then see just what happens when events and people around her start to cause irreparable damage. The voiceovers from those who were in her life very occasionally come across as defensive, and it’s saddening to hear the genuine emotion from those who saw her start to decline and struggled to help her deal with her demons.
I didn’t like having to hear from Mitchell Winehouse, her father, or Blake Fielder, her boyfriend and eventual husband (and other labels that I won’t mention here, due to my eagerness to avoid accusations of libel). There were one or two others who seemed to be spouting words that contradicted their possible role in the wilderness that became Amy’s life. But those people were needed to paint the whole picture, just as much as the words of Salaam Remi, those of her childhood friends who stuck beside her for as long as they could, and even other artists who greatly respected her, such as Mos Def and Tony Bennett.
Although it never oustays its welcome, Amy becomes a much more difficult viewing experience in the second half. Because we all know how it ends, and watching the journey to that point is heart-achingly sad. They say that hindsight is 20/20 but you cannot watch the footage here without being reminded of the media circus that developed. And you cannot look at that huge spotlight staying focused on one woman without wondering just how in the hell more people didn’t get together to make a more concerted effort to save a life.
Now, excuse me, I’m off to belatedly pick up a copy of Back To Black on CD. It’s the least I can do.
Amy is screening at EIFF 2015 on 18th And 20th June
DIRECTOR: ASIF KAPADIA
STARS: AMY WINEHOUSE
RUNTIME: 123 MINS APPROX