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Amy: Compelling, Heartbreaking Documentary of the Late Amy Winehouse

reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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Amy: Compelling, Heartbreaking Documentary of the Late Amy Winehouse

Compelling and tragic. Two words describing the experience of watching Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning documentary about the rise and fall of the talented British soul singer-songwriter, Amy Winehouse.

Told through a collection of archival footage, private home-videos and narrative voiceovers, Kapadia – best known for his mesmerizing work in the BAFTA-winning documentary about the life and death of Brazilian Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna in Senna – has woven together a deeply personal and poignant insight into a life imperiled by a grueling addiction and unwanted fame which inevitably lead to a tragic and untimely death of one bright young star.

Opening the story with a shaky home-video footage of the seemingly innocent and giddy fifteen-year-old Amy belting out a soulful version of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ – before continuing to mess around with friends on the stairs of a home somewhere in North London – Kapadia is very quick to establish Amy as the center focus of the story, embracing her recognisable talent and cheeky attitude right from the very start.

Similar to Senna, the director uses archival footage – an array of news reels, radio interviews, talk show appearances as well as a generous selection of private videos and voicemail recordings – as the tool which drives the story; a move which once again proves his skills as an expressive and unique storyteller.

With very little footage of Amy’s life as a young child to put into the mix, the story swooshes past her early years, landing only to document her discontent which came with her father’s abandonment when she was only nine-years-old, ultimately leading her to antidepressants and bulimia.

It was only when she leaves home at the age of nineteen, after earning a bit of cash with the release of her 2003 debut album, Frank, that Amy begins to gain her freedom so that she can write music and, as she puts it, “smoke weed all day.”

Things get messy when Amy moves to Camden, especially when she begins her obsessive relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, who, after leading her into hard drugs and later dumping her to go back to his girlfriend, served to be the sole inspiration for her breakout album, Back to Black, in 2006.

What follows is an unprecedented shot to stardom, sending the already vulnerable musician – who said that she’d go “mad” if she ever became famous – to the exploiting hands of the two important men in her life and the relentless clutches of the paparazzi who hounded the star night and day.

Winehouse's music is forever present, emerging almost like a character of its own, its roots conveyed with a great deal of honesty and pain whilst the lyrics do their own unhappy dance on the screen before us. 

Amy is a hypnotic, poignant and a painful to watch unfold, and just like its subject of interest, very difficult to forget.

Like This? Try

Senna (2011), Janis (1974), Patti Smith: Dream of Life (2008)  

360 Tip

Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, has been very public about his hate for the film, stating that the movie has been edited in order to produce an inaccurate narrative of Amy’s story, especially the last three years of her life.  

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