Archival footage and personal testimonials present an intimate portrait of the life and career of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse.Archival footage and personal testimonials present an intimate portrait of the life and career of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse.Archival footage and personal testimonials present an intimate portrait of the life and career of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse.
This documentary about her has been made by Asif Kapadia who directed the film Senna (2010) which remains one of the most highly respected documentaries of recent years. When you consider that that film was also about someone at the top of their field who died young in a dramatic and sudden manner, you could say that there are some similarities between both stories. But in reality the Amy Winehouse story is a much darker one, with its central character going on an extended path of self-destruction. And one in which we in the audience know only too well how it ends. The film is made up of home video and TV clips of Winehouse and fills in details with recollections of people who were close to her in the form of voice-overs, as opposed to a more traditional talking heads format. After the release of her definitive album Back to Black in 2006, Winehouse basically retreated and conducted next to no interviews which of course posed the film-makers some problems and the effect is that as the film goes on she becomes increasingly remote and we feel like we know her less.
The contrast between the Amy of the early years to the one latterly seen is pretty pronounced. Her appearance became more intense and she quickly covered herself with an assortment of harsh tattoos. This phase coincided with her downward spiral with drink and drugs. It seems pretty clear that her attachment to her husband Blake Fielder was inextricably linked to this. He came across as a hanger-on who led her onto hard drugs and who then had little self-interest in getting her off them. The problem was that she loved him and it was this that made the situation so destructive. Throughout the film, as her songs play, her lyrics are displayed on screen and it is obvious that much of her music was based on highly personal emotional songs that constantly were sourced from her experiences in relationships. So much of her success was derived from this well of emotion but it was one that could equally destabilise her. This was only exacerbated by her bouts of depression and her problematic relationship with her dad.
There is no getting away with the fact that this is a sad story; one that is all the more shaming when you consider that it played out so visibly in the public eye. But the public eye is very uncaring unfortunately and all too often empathises when it is far too late. But this film also captures the voice and the humour, so integral to Amy Winehouse. And so while it is impossible to ignore the tragedy, the beauty is here too. This was, after all, a very singular artist whose roots were in jazz, which is hardly a music for lightweights. Amy Winehouse was a proper talent who made music entirely on her own terms. If I was to criticise mildly it would be to say that the film itself might be marginally too long and perhaps goes over some ground more than it has to. But mainly this is ultimately a very worthy attempt to tell what is a complex and contrasting story to the screen with all its darkness and light.
- Jun 19, 2015