Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Asif Kapadia.
When she died at the young age of 27 in 2011, Grammy award winning British singer Amy Winehouse joined that small group of self destructive singers who also died an untimely death as their addictions got the better of them – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.
This documentary is a revealing, warts and all look at the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of Winehouse, who has sold over 20 million albums and won numerous awards in her short career. And even though we know the outcome, it is the journey that makes this documentary quite moving and poignant.
The film comes from director Asif Kapadia, who previously gave us the superb Senna, one of the best sports documentaries, which looked at the short life of Brazilian formula one driver Ayrton Senna. Kapadia was approached by David Joseph, the CEO of Universal Music in the UK, to make a film about another iconic figure who died tragically young.
Kapadia has interviewed many of Winehouse’s close friends, family, colleagues, and collaborators to provide this intimate and detailed portrait of a troubled young singer. As with Senna, Kapadia eschews traditional narration and the usual structure, using a combination of archival footage, home movie footage, and candid interviews to tell the story of Winehouse’s meteoric rise to fame and her spectacular fall.
Because she spent so much time in the public eye through her concerts and live appearances on television talk shows, there is plenty of footage available to the film makers. Editor Chris King shapes the material in coherent fashion as the increasingly fragile Winehouse’s tragic life unfolds. Amy largely unspools in chronological order. We follow her from her optimistic and more innocent teenage years through her spectacular rise to the top of the music industry due to her distinctive voice which was suited to the blues and to her inevitable and dramatic fall. Her life was like a slow motion car crash as she went in and out of rehab several times to unsuccessfully try to kick her addictions. And the film captures her haggard look as her addictions take hold. And we get a glimpse of her final disastrous performance at a gig in Serbia when she was almost too wasted to stand.
As the film makes plain, Winehouse was unable to handle her success, and the demands of the media, the constant scrutiny of the paparazzi, took a toll on the reluctant star. Fame came at a high price. And it was also obvious that her circle of minders, including her father and managers, failed to help her when she most needed it to overcome her addictions to drugs and alcohol. “She needed someone to say no,” recalls her bodyguard at one point.
The filmmakers paint a rather grim picture of her husband Blake Fielder-Civil, a sleazy party boy who lived off Winehouse’s money and introduced her to the hard drugs that eventually killed her. And her father Mitch Winehouse also doesn’t come out of the documentary looking too good either, as he is portrayed as greedy and none too concerned about her health or welfare.
There is plenty of music on the film’s soundtrack, which will resonate with fans. But many of her songs are often quite prophetic given her tragic circumstances, and she drew upon her own troubled life for much of the inspiration, as illustrated by the handwritten lyrics scrawling across the screen.
Even those who don’t know much about Winehouse or her music will still find this insightful and powerful documentary revealing, grim, fascinating, and moving.
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