Another summer film about a talented musician that was taken from the world in the middle of their life? Last week it was the biopic Straight Outta Compton, this week it’s the documentary Amy.
Amy stars Amy Winehouse, Nick Shymansky, Salaam Remi, Blake Fielder and Mitch Winehouse and is directed by Asif Kapadia. Amy is a documentary that follows the life of singer Amy Winehouse from the start of her career to her death in 2011. Featuring several interviews with her friends, family and fellow performers, the film looks into both her struggling with addiction and her successes as a soul singer.
First off, the amount of footage that has been uncovered in the making of Amy is stunning. The other documentary this summer, Precinct Seven Five, while it had it’s fair share of archive footage, had many instances of reconstruction, but Amy is nearly all home footage made by Winehouse or her friends. The very first shot is of Amy and friends at a 14-year-old birthday party, and the film keeps offering up these brief snippets of candid camera footage, giving us a real insight into how the woman lived. It’s a real achievement by director Asif Kapadia that he managed to find so much and got permission to use a lot of the more confrontational and verbally explicit scenes in the film. Kapadia’s previous work involves the documentary Senna, based on the F1 racer Ayrton Senna. With Amy, Kapadia shows that he is one of the masters of emotionally charged documentaries on influential people.
The footage ranges from simple home cameras to full interviews with friends, news footage and even some mobile phone footage during some of the concerts. It’s a brilliant collage to see the same scene unfold from a different viewpoint. The footage that is the most hard to watch is the continual paparazzi news footage where all that you can see is a small figure in the middle of a thousand light bulbs going off, watching her get more and more irate at the massive intrusion into her private life. The other couple of scenes that are were hard to watch and listen to were the comedians and the talk shows at the time who were turning her suffering into jokes. While it might have been funny to some people at the time, it feels toe curlingly cringe-worthy to see someone’s personal demons get thrown around for a laugh.
Due to the impressive collection of footage, we also get to watch Winehouse perform not just live but also in the recording studio and also before she was even signed when she’s playing her demo to the heads of record companies. Since most of the songs are based on events that happened in Winehouse’s life, they bookend each of the major points that Kapadia focuses on during the film. The performances even come with the pages of handwritten lyrics alongside or with floating text somewhere on the screen showing how the situations around Winehouse shaped the songs that she wrote.
The original score for the film was created Antonio Pinto (who worked previously with Kapadia on Senna) and the work is similarly haunting. While Pinto uses a few of the same tracks from his earlier work, they still pack the same emotional punch as they did when they were first used. The song that plays over the last few minutes of the film pulls at the heartstrings and manages to sum up Winehouse’s life in a series of pictures and notes.
The film also deals with Winehouse’s drug addiction and the attempts to get clean. Some of the footage is disturbing, but what’s more disturbing is the forces at play that want her to stay on the money-producing concert tours than try and seek professional help. While these ideas are attributed to certain members of her entourage, the film doesn’t point fingers at anyone in particular, instead just glossing over the people on the outside and focusing more on Winehouse.
The best scene however is her final recording with Tony Bennett. While Winehouse is moving back and forth, nervous and a little bit worried that she is wasting one of her musical idols time, Bennett just smiles and gets her to come to microphone and perform a beautiful rendition of Body And Soul. It’s a perfect moment between the two singers and for a few moments in Winehouse’s last turbulent months come harmony.
In summary, Amy is a raw insight into the power and pull of fame and stardom. It’s definitely one for the fans and one for those interested in documentaries.
Score: 8/10 Brutally raw and ultimately sad, a very powerful film.