It’s not difficult to remember where you were the day the news broke that Amy Winehouse had passed away. However for many people, there was almost a morbid rolling of the eyes that followed. It was news that felt tragically unsurprising; expected even. But now, master documentarian Asif Kapadia is going to take you through the motions all over again, and while we all know what happens at the end of this film – in a very similar vein to the filmmaker’s preceding endeavour Senna – such is the bond that Kapadia has created between the subject and the viewer, it’s truly devastating and impactful when it occurs. In some ways even more so than when the news originally broke.
Amy Winehouse was a cubby-cheeked, innovative jazz singer from North London, propelled into fame somewhere in-between her only two studio albums, with hit single ‘Rehab’ setting her on the path to worldwide recognition. There is a rawness to her music, the ability to make music that feels timeless, and yet with such contemporary, relevant lyrics. But then, following a battle with narcotics, she died of an overdose at the age of 27 at her Camden home.
Again, similarly to Senna, there’s a lack of any talking head interviews, instead presenting this tale strictly through home footage, TV appearances and live shows – seamlessly edited together while close friends of the late singer narrate over the top. We watch the demise of this young girl slowly, and painfully, while a foreboding feeling remains prevalent, lingering out of this production like a dark, menacing cloud. We watch on as she becomes more gaunt, from the outspoken youngster, to the frail woman, leaving nightclubs with blood stained shoes; but we never once lose sight of the human being within – the incredibly talented musician at the heart of it all.
Here is a comprehensive study of how somebody can turn to this lifestyle, and Kapadia is sure not to point the finger at anyone in particular, remaining crucially impartial throughout. Winehouse’s family have distanced themselves from the project, mostly down to the fact that they don’t come across particularly well, but there’s no agenda at play – and if anything, those who come across in the more reprehensible light are the paparazzi and press who made her life a living nightmare for years.
By the end of the piece, you feel as though you’ve known Amy your whole life, and that personal connection is aided by the way her lyrics appear on the screen, allowing us to understand her music – which in many ways was her most accessible and honest means of expression, while it’s presented in handwriting, adding an intimate, personal touch. It’s one of many reasons why Kapadia’s Amy makes for such compelling viewing, and despite the sheer brilliance of both this documentary and Senna, you can’t help but feel a little relieved that his next endeavour is a fictional, narrative piece, as we look forward to a respite of sorts; a sense of escapism – because the harrowing reality that exists in these past two documentaries will never quite leave you.