Whatever Asif Kapadia’s ‘ documentary about Amy Winehouse was going to be, it would have made us cry. And it did just that.
Amy Winehouse’s is a very recent story, that feels as if it happened yesterday and it is so well known that a documentary revealing something surprisingly new would be impossible. Indeed, Asif Kapadia’s film, who became known in 2010 with “Senna”, is a wholesome portrait, with plenty of material that feels familiar. The documentary undertakes to tell the story from the beginning, when Amy was a little girl and recorded videos with her two best friends, follows her when she met glory, descends along her decline and finishes with her tragic end. Among all the elements of her talent, great emphasis is given on her lyrics that appear on screen during her songs, marking not only a special and very creative woman, but also the important events of her life, which are reflected there with precision and detail.
Since Winehouse’s life and career unfolded so recently, the material about her life is abundant, while a great part of it is filmed by her and her friends. The people with whom Kapadia speaks belong to her close circle, her few friends, her last agent, her bodyguard, her father and mother, and Blake Fielder, her great love and husband, with whom she was initiated into hard drugs and for whom she wrote “Back to Black”. The truth, evident in their words – and it’s probably the real truth, since life did not leave much room for conspiracy theories – is that Amy Winehouse was left to face the high demands of celebrity without any help from anyone. Her friends distanced themselves along the way, unable to cope with her persistent self-destructive streak. Her agent pushed her beyond her limits, her father, of whom she was very fond, grossly exploited her for his benefit while her mother was silent and absent. One feels that even this documentary with its insistence on the images of Amy’s destruction, whether on purpose or not, leaves her exposed towards the end.
If Asif Kapadia’s “Amy” has something important to offer, besides the abundance of the material, which assembled thus seals her memory, is an authentic look at the past. Amy Winehouse herself is seen and heard to constantly be talking about her thoughts and dreams, even when she was small or in her infancy, long before she became known to the public. And there one can see her real, fragile personality. A girl who above all loved music, jazz, writing lyrics and falling in love, unbridled, having fun and living carelessly. A girl who knew that she would not be able to cope with the demands of the music industry, of the concerts and of her fans and said so, again and again. Bright, rebellious, Northlondoner with attitude, ready for passion, but not for responsibilities. When you realise all this about a girl who died sad at 28, listening to her songs as background music and to Tony Bennett, her idol since childhood, saying that he was sorry and he wished he could have told her to wait… how can one not well up in tears?