Directed by: Asif Kapadia
When Amy Winehouse burst onto the scene with her hit song “Rehab” in 2006, it had people singing and dancing across the world. Its catchy hook almost bragged about not attending rehab and infected the airwaves. The song showed Winehouse’s talented blending of old-style jazz singing and modern pop that made her into a global sensation. It was only after her drug-related death in 2011 that the song took on a different meaning: a cry for help, as we see in filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy.”
Tackling the life of Winehouse, “Amy” shows the rise and fall of the young star starting from footage of her as a young girl to her tragic overdose in 2011. Using the same technique he did in “Senna,” one of the best documentaries of the last five years, Kapadia uses exclusive archive footage to tell the story. With no talking heads (only audio interviews mixed with other footage), Kapadia’s style is nothing short of brilliant as he is able to weave together and seamlessly edit old footage to form a cohesive, linear and, most importantly, engaging narrative. In a landscape of truly talented documentarians, Kapadia is quickly rising to the top.
Winehouse’s story was truly a tragic one, as we saw yet another talent succumb to the world of drugs. Though most of what the general public knows about Winehouse was via tabloids and paparazzi photographs, Kapadia is able to not only humanize her, but show a different side to her. While it is certainly interesting getting the musical perspective, the truly fascinating moments come as the audiences sees the type of people that surrounded Winehouse. As the film shows, Winehouse was surrounded by enablers, both by way of parental and romantic relationships. While “shocking” may not be the right word for it, it is staggering to see how many true signs of addiction were ignored by those around her. It may not be the easiest watch in the world, but if nothing else, “Amy” proves how the need for fame, even if it is by proxy, can truly blind people.
If there’s a complaint about “Amy,” it is that there are certain themes that aren’t hit hard enough. The most notable of these is a theme of reluctant stardom. Interestingly enough, this was also a huge part of the life and downfall of Kurt Cobain that was missing from the recent HBO documentary “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.” It’s a common theme the two share that is only solidified further through their membership in “The 27 Club,” a list of famous musicians that died at age 27 including Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, among others. Despite these shortcomings, “Amy” is a really interesting look at a tortured talent that left us too soon. Admittedly, the film would have resonated more from the perspective of a true fan. As a casual listener, however, “Amy” is gripping enough to stand on its own merits, even if it doesn’t dig as deep as one would hope.