Amy

This documentary study of British soul superstar Amy Winehouse is a sad story that follows a narrative trajectory akin to the best celluloid mysteries. You see, we know the tragic outcome from the outset and the film then sets about retracing the series of events that ultimately help us determine who is responsible for the tragedy that transpires. Sadly though, Amy is no fictional concoction and it is both engrossing and enraging to witness the physical and psychological decline of a person whose talent ultimately became overshadowed by the chaos that surrounded her. As he did with the award winning Senna, director Asif Kapadia again relies on archival material to tell the story of a gifted individual cut down in their prime. Combining home video, news reports, concert footage, paparazzi images and other extant footage overlaid with voice-over interviews from family, friends, associates and industry figures – such as Mark Ronson, Mos Def and Tony Bennett – Kapadia paints a picture of a talented young singer whose life was ultimately cut short by the actions – and subsequent inaction – of those best placed to prevent such a tragic outcome. Amy poster Amy Winehouse never wanted to be a star, at one point stating that she didn’t think she “could handle being famous”, an eerily prophetic statement as it turns out and a declaration that is brushed aside by those around her, many of whom stood to gain from her growing popularity. Like all good stories, there has to be a bad guy and they are in plentiful supply in this instance; from her husband Blake Fielder-Civil who introduced her to illicit drugs, her parents who dismissed a teenage eating disorder, to a manager whose own self-interest seemed a far greater priority than his client’s wellbeing. Fielder-Civil was a particularly dangerous and dysfunctional presence in her life, while her father Mitch abandoned his family before re-emerging later to become a parasitic and somewhat pathetic presence who, perhaps not surprisingly, is unhappy with the way he has been portrayed in the film. Whilst there is always room to question the authenticity of representations in films such as these, it is Winehouse’s lyrics that are perhaps most telling of all. Her songs are remarkably literal in their chronicling of her life experiences and Kapadia uses them to great effect in supporting the version of events that he presents. Amy 2 Despite an ongoing battle with bulimia and depression – there is a particularly harrowing voicemail message in which she offers Fielder-Civil her “unconditional love” as much out of loneliness and insecurity than anything else – Winehouse seemed to have found her place in the world as a jazz singer, only to be thrust headlong into the spotlight, hounded by the media and manipulated by hangers-on as her music hit the mainstream. Retreating to a world of excess in her consumption of alcohol and other substances, Winehouse began a downward spiral that ultimately resulted in her death at age 27. It is particularly galling to see the way in which the likes of Jay Leno and David Letterman mock Winehouse as she struggles to maintain control of her addictions. Amy 1 In any film relying so heavily of found footage, the way the material is spliced together is crucial in delivering an engaging and cohesive narrative. In this instance, editor Chris King – whose extensive documentary resumé includes Senna, All This Mayhem and Exit Through the Gift Shop – has done a splendid job to deliver a thoroughly engrossing story about a person blessed with talent and charisma but burdened by insecurities that resulted in the self-destructive tendencies that ultimately prevailed. With Amy, Kapadia tells a story that is as gripping as any thriller despite the fact that we know how it ends and that is a considerable achievement. Whilst Amy is very much an insight into Amy Winehouse’s incredible talent as a singer and songwriter, it is also much, much more than that. This is a treatise on mental illness, addiction and the trappings of fame; a powerful tribute to a young person whose death was an unnecessary end to a series of events in which several people failed in their responsibilities as friends, family and human beings.

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