2015 / Director. Asif Kapadia.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Asif Kapadia makes great documentaries. SENNA was an excellent example of a clever narrative form, one that delivered a clear, concise and thoroughly enjoyable examination of the Formula One champion that appealed to everyone, not just petrol heads. By focussing on the man and not the sport, and his achievements therein, it broadened its audience appeal and went tearing straight for the heart.
He applies the same trick in AMY as he charts a sixteen year old's meteoric rise to fame. The story doesn't need to be recounted here. In fact, you'll likely know it already; a Faustian tale of fame, but we're not here for the story. We're here for the intimacy and Kapadia has scored some cracking interviews with everybody from Winehouse's childhood best-friend through to Tony Bennett (with whom she recoded a duet album) and everyone in between - ex-lovers, friends, producers and bodyguards to name a few. Each one of them divulges a little of their experiences with the troubled starlet and the effects of the world's loss of her.
Kapadia supposedly recorded the interviews on microphone with no camera in a room with the lights dimmed to create an atmosphere that lent itself to hushed tones and unfettered candidness. Every soundbite creaks and groans with honesty and loss. It's a heartbreaking rendering of a tragic life that spiraled out of control in almost record time (a mere seven years between her first album release and her death).
If there's a problem with AMY it's that it's severely lacking in the 'why's. There's enough biographies (authorised or not), television specials, articles and internet chatter that if you cut the middle-ground between two of these books you'd likely get the same story presented here. There's nothing particularly revelatory in AMY. Sure, it's good to see private home videos of a young Winehouse or moments with friends caught on camera phones at parties but the film only briefly touches on why such a talent with the world at her feet became the self-destructive, self-sabotaging mess.
Obvious questions like 'If Amy didn't want the fame she says she couldn't abide then why did she continually sign contracts?' are never addressed leaving us with a suspicion there is a wealth of fascinating topics left completely untouched. To top it off its whopping running time of 130mins does, at times, feel laboured. The final act suffers from dry repetition as Amy goes from binge to rehab, binge to rehab until ultimately she steps out of the destructive loop famously winning herself a slew of Grammy awards. These are, however, relatively small concerns when the rest of the film is so on-point.
While it's much better than other of its ilk (MONTAGE OF HECK) it's unlikely to win Winehouse any new fans - this isn't a back-slap happy celebration all the time - but it is a superbly crafted document of another musician that fell prey to the lifestyle and joined the 27 Club.