It’s not often a film comes around that can change your perception of a person or event so drastically, that you leave feeling guilty about ever having felt so wrongly about the person or situation. Amy, a relevatory documentary about the life and death of singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse is exactly that type of film though – one that promises an insight into the girl behind the name and delivers just that.
I can remember the day Amy Winehouse died, although it feels like a lot longer than four years ago. Social media was full of tributes to the singer who I’d never really been a fan of, and I, rather embarrassingly, remember posting a preachy status of my own where I told people that there were worse things going on in the world than the death of a ‘drug-addicted singer’.
We all do stupid things in life without sometimes thinking of what other people are going through, and looking back, it baffles me how I could ever think I had any right to value one persons life more than somebody elses. It may not sound like a big deal, but leaving Amy, I couldn’t help but feel so ashamed of what I said that I felt the need to say sorry to her or her loved ones – and that in itself is a comment to how successful Asif Kapadia’s documentary truly is.
Much like his previous award winning film Senna, Amy is constructed with a staggering amount of archive footage. Talking heads are done away with and in their place we get voiceover from friends, family and associates who tell Amy’s story over footage of the singer herself. There’s never a time in the film’s two-hour plus running time, where the ‘subject’ isn’t on-screen, which makes it virtually impossible not to be drawn into her life.
It wasn’t until toward the end of Amy that I realised how invested I was in it. I felt so drawn into it, as if I was a part of it, that my surroundings seemed to have disappeared into the blackness of the cinema – and that’s a cinematic rarity. More than making for a totally immersive experience, Kapadia’s vision to make a documentary consisting solely of archive footage allows Amy Winehouse to tell her own story, as if from the grave – a claim that many documentaries make, but hardly ever achieve.
We get to see the rise of the young star – gifted with such an amazing singing voice that it’s enough to make you believe in a god – and the events leading to her death, through drug and alcohol abuse. All the while, Asif Kapadia tries to explore the different causes of her addiction and health problems, with fame and fractured relationships with her father, as well as the love of her life, Blake Fielding, all playing a role in her downfall.
Whilst in the past I may have felt that her death was her own doing, it’s quite clear through watching Amy, that the singer was let down in some way by her family, friends, and the general public. Footage of stand up comedians taking the piss out of her appearance – something that I may have once laughed at – and a festival crowd who are quick to turn on the clearly unwell Winehouse, highlights the disparity between drug addicts who are famous and those who are not.
These moments hint that we are all equally as culpable in Amy’s downfall as anybody else, through our fickle fascination with celebrity and our perverse habit to revel in tabloid gossip. For Kapadia to put Amy’s story across as well as he does makes the film remarkable as it is, but for him to turn it back on us to the point where it makes us reflect on our modern day society, makes Amy a masterpiece.
Another nice addition to the whole thing is how Amy’s music is essentially used as a narrative tool. Big, life changing moments in her story – such as her break up with Fielding – are subsequently followed by a song, accompanied with on-screen lyrics. Not only do the personal lyrics take on a whole new meaning based on what you’ve just seen, but they give you a deeper understanding as to how Amy must have been feeling during the time. More than that, it made me appreciate her music and artistry a lot more than I ever thought possible.
Riveting and haunting, Amy not only cements Asif Kapadia as one of the greatest documentarians working today, but offers a deep exploration into the life of a modern day icon. It’s a powerful, resonating picture that touches on giant themes of celebrity, addiction, eating disorders and depression, all the while focusing on a single person.
Like all great documentaries, Amy opened my eyes to something I never quite understood and that, in a way, makes it humbling and essential viewing. I may never get to apologise properly for my careless attitude to her death, but it has certainly made me less judgemental, more understanding, and a genuine admirer of Amy Winehouse as a person and an artist. That’s something which will stay with me for the rest of my life, and not many films can have that affect on a person.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com