**** out of ****
My willful ignorance of popular music can lead to shame at times. When Amy Winehouse would appear on the covers of magazines with that sexy figure covered in tattoos with a loud dress, heavy makeup and big hair, my instinct was to ignore her. When she made the tabloid covers at the grocery store for her substance abuse issues, I definitely continued ignoring. Like so many others, my response to her death was cynical as well.
I never really understood that among all the circus attractions who make it to the top of the billboard charts, Winehouse was a uniquely gifted singer/songwriter. Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, Amy, explores the short life of this artist, whose self-destructive behavior was exploited by tabloid journalism, tainting the memory of someone who really had a lot to give.
Kapadia’s stylistic choices are noteworthy. This is great documentary filmmaking, which thrives on restrictions. The entire movie is made up of photos and footage from home videos, camera-phones, professional concert filming, and television appearances – all broken up by weightless drone cinematography of the locations for which the story of Winehouse’s life focuses. What it doesn’t show, are its interview subjects. All the testimonials from family, friends, and colleagues, are audio-only - overlapping the constant flow of imagery showing Amy as they provide unreserved commentary of their relationship to her troubled existence.
The constant in the film is the face of Winehouse as it fluctuates between inspired joy and lifeless despair. I didn’t walk away from this documentary, convinced that Winehouse was a great person. Like so many talented artists she was a tortured soul letting down those who cared for her, but this was matched by the amount of people responsible for her well-being and failed (some more miserably than others), enabling her eventual demise. This is a devastating film, but once you start watching, it’s impossible to ignore.