This week, we’ take a look at Amy, Asif Kapadia’s documentary based on the life of renowned jazz singer Amy Winehouse as she deals with the pressures of being a superstar while battling alcoholism and drug use.
9 out of 10
Oddly enough, I’m not one for artsy movies. I stick to mainstream blockbusters, movies with Oscar buzz, and some other random ones here and there, but the low-key, Indie hits and artistic documentaries have never been my forte. However, I went out to see Amy because my friends thought it looked interesting, and I won’t lie, I found it extremely appealing myself. And as we found, our instincts were right; Amy was beautifully well crafted documentary. filled to the brim with intriguing storytelling and an incredible use of music.
One of the more unique things about this documentary is that the actually footage is completely put together from real footage, meaning home videos, photos, tv broadcasts, paparazzi filming, etc. There is not a single minute of this film (that I can recollect) that is artificial. There are audio overlays of interviewees that really drive the story along and take us on this journey through Amy Winehouse’s life. Her ex-husband, her manager, her best friend, her father– all these people (and more) made up the overlay. The film was so uniquely crafted from beginning to end. All the overlays did their part in moving Amy’s story forward. It was our way of getting to know her characters. Paired with real, genuine home video, we started to fall in love with this extremely talented woman, flaws and all.
The other thing that really stood out to me was the incorporation of Winehouse’s music, specifically her lyrics. Every so often, the action would shift from interviewers and video to footage of Amy in concert or in a recording studio singing a song, with the lyrics captioned on the screen. What was so incredible about this was that the lyrics and the tone of the song always matched up with the feeling of the documentary of the time. You would expect a documentary about a musician to feature their music, that goes without saying, but this music was not just featured. It was incorporated along the seams of the story. It helped to tell that story. It really was the story.
The last 20 minutes of the film, I was absolutely on edge. Since we all know the ending– she dies of alcohol poisoning– it may seem hard to believe there is any sort of climax. However, I felt quite the contrary. The film used the dramatic irony– that the audience knew the ending– to its advantage. Instead of sugar-coating her death, they attack it full force. It really forces you to think about everything she went through. Her death was not her own ignorance and addiction. It was a combination of her father’s pressure, her husband’s own addiction, and the paparazzi absurd standards that drove her off a cliff.
Amy is a fantastically crafted documentary that does a fantastic job exploring a number of things, including alcoholism & drug abuse, eating disorders, and the pressure of being a celebrity, all issues that were inflicted upon one of the most talented musicians we’ve ever seen. I can say before I saw this film, I didn’t think there was much to Amy Winehouse. I thought she was someone who really fucked up her life, and that its was her fault and no one else’s. Amy provided an eye-opening perspective on her, and all people with addictions. If you get a chance to see it, do yourself a favor and do so. It really is a work of art.
9 out of 10
I really like documentaries on niche topics. A film that takes a topic I know nothing about and just absorbs me even without a direct message or commentary on said issue. In this case, that topic was the life of Amy Winehouse.
I think we all know the basic trajectory of Winehouse’s career: she was a celebrity that fell victim to the fact that we seem to love to see a talent get tossed up and dragged down regularly and recreationally.
Amy sheds light on this process and shows us the nitty gritty of her career, her time with loved ones and her struggle with addiction in between. Does it assign blame at all for her deeper problems? No, it remains pretty agnostic on that question. It doesn’t drop to the depths of being a VH1 or MTV “rise and fall” flick, it just shows you an artist and how she ticked.
The film expertly weaves in voicemails, interviews and archive footage to paint its portrait. I honestly can’t imagine how much work it took to assemble all the footage the filmmakers did, let alone configure it all effectively but their work definitely does shine here.
The documentary also makes use of the songs that you may or may not know with some bullseye interludes of just the music and the lyrics artfully juxtaposed with Winehouse’s story. The words are about one hundred times more resonant when paired with its singer’s strife and tooth and nail technique.
As I said earlier, the film does not exactly point fingers. However, I’d be quite surprised if any viewer left the film without at least a little anger towards the media and paparazzi, both of whom the doc portrays as actively hungry and vicious. All the raw footage from sources like TMZ feature a barrage of flashes and an assault of reporters that highlight the sheer unpleasantness of being famous (a label Amy herself denies a substantial amount of times in the movie).
The Winehouse family is also not spared from a bit of scrutiny; the parents are implicated in a number of instances where they seem to brush off their daughter’s spirals as being in character. I’ve been told that several of her family members didn’t care for this documentary and, while it doesn’t explicitly draw connections between Amy’s upbringings and her eventual problems, I can see why.
No matter who the viewer chooses as the root cause of this talented musician’s passing though, there’s one question that the film persistently asks: could anything have been done to help her? Plenty of those interviewed do use “could’ve” and “should’ve” yet others imply that they did their part and that nothing else really could have been done to solve Winehouse’s deeper demons.
Whether you sympathize more with the former or the latter, there’s no denying that Amy is an intriguing, powerful look into what it really means to be an addict, a celebrity and a divisive music legend.