Film Review – Amy
When you hear the name Amy Winehouse, what first pops into your mind? The song “Rehab,” the signature beehive hairdo, her drug problems, or maybe even her tragic death?
Amy is a new documentary on the English jazz singer. Using personal video footage, recordings, her songs, live concert videos, interviews, papparazi photos and everything in between, Amy documents the rise of an English Jewish girl with a hell of a voice to one of the most recognizable singers in the world. Directed by Asif Kapadia (Senna), the documentary is told in a linear fashion, from her beginnings in North London to the worldwide concert tours.
Because of how the documentary’s timeline, the dissolution of Amy Winehouse from a struggling, brash singer wanting to sing for a living to the skinny, drugged-out version of herself is all the more depressing and tragic. The documentary examines the causes of her decline alongside the videos and photos of her. It struck me early on in the film when Amy said she did not want to be famous and if she ever did, she would go “mad.” This was a foreshadowing of what would happen to her when she did in fact become famous. Combine this with the drug and alcohol problems, emotional instability, family issues, and hidden bulimia, the road to her death was seemingly inevitable without major intervention.
It is hard not to judge the people surrounding Amy Winehouse in her last years for some of blame in her death. The manager (Ray Cosbert), a jailed husband (Blake Fielder), and her father (Mitchell Winehouse) all seemed to have their own interests (money) ahead of any real, authentic concern for the ailing singer. They, save the husband, signed her up for tours despite her protests and being unhealthy. It all came to a head when her last live show turned into a disaster, Amy not wanting to sing at all, but contractually obligated to appear.
There were a few in her corner, fighting her life. Among those was her first manager (Nick Shymasnsky) and her childhood friends (Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert). They fought tooth and nail to get her help and understand what was happening to her.
The documentary itself does not use any new interview videos with those telling about Amy’s life. The approach from Kapadia keeps the focus on Amy. He instead uses audio interviews narrating over the home videos, photos, and concert footage. A part of me wanted to see these people on screen as they talked about Amy, but in doing so, it would have resulted in some precious footage of Amy being cut.
There is no doubt that Amy Winehouse had a powerful, beautiful voice. Her life is also in those songs, the majority written by Amy herself. She used her music as an outlet for the relationships, happiness, and pain she encountered in her life. Amy gives us the best in-depth look into what formed her into the person she was all the while making us realize how much more she could have done. Perhaps if she had never become worldwide famous, instead achieving minor success, she would still be here. Kapadia has put together a painstakingly detailed and perceived accurate portrait of Amy Winehouse. Even if you were never a fan, the documentary is done well enough that you are emotionally attached to her, invested in her outcome, and bracing for the known end.