In this documentary by Asif Kapadia, a collage of shaky handheld memories, unseen archive footage, professional interviews and gig recordings form the patchwork quilt of Amy Winehouse’s tragic story. Opening with a 14 year old Amy singing Happy Birthday, Kapadia welcomes us onto an intimate, unseen journey back into her childhood and from then an unfolding timeline reflects the mad rollercoaster of her story; snippets frequently narrated by friends, family and the industry.From the beginning we’re greeted with an Amy the media rarely portrays; an Amy that is human, funny and beautifully gifted, as the film attempts to amend her reputation, and it does so with success. Her passion for jazz and soul is almost moving and her insistence of being anti-fame is refreshing, even in her early career days. With friends, she laughs in a dingy loo cubicle backstage, her normality and welcoming humour making you feel like you’re watching a home movie of an old friend.
We move on gradually to her fame, highlighting what Kapadia feels are the pinpoints of her life: releasing Frank, meeting Blake (Amy’s former husband), releasing Back to Black and so on. All the while, lyrics like poetry taken directly from Amy’s diary dissolve onto the screen whilst her smoulderingly husky voice rings through the screening sending shivers down our spines. The lyrics match perfectly with the aforementioned pinpoints; as Blake leaves Amy for his former girlfriend on screen, we simultaneously hear: “You go back to her and I go back to black“. A constant reminder of just how ferociously honest and true her lyrics were, one of the many factors which made her such a distinctive gift to the music industry.
We reach the beginnings of her downfall and are constantly reminded of her hatred for fame and the paparazzi. From an archived interviews, she tells us: “I don’t think I’m gonna be at all famous. I don’t think I could handle it; I’d probably go mad.” Overbearingly bright camera flashes flood the screen sending a surge of light into the screening as if lightening struck. “Amy! Amy! Amy!” – they follow her down the street, continuing to flash, forcing the woman to lose her way through the invasive crowds. As her addictions grew stronger and health worsened, she became this symbol of fascination in which the media became voyeuristic of. “The world wanted a piece of her and took it”, yet nobody offered a helping hand.
With this in mind, I cannot help but feel uncomfortable sitting through the documentary. Whether I cast my eyes upon her joyous last moments singing with idol Tony Bennett or personal pictures of her and Blake posing with narcotics, I question whether it is what she would have wanted. Nevertheless, it is a beautifully crafted documentary graciously giving us an insight into the real Amy Winehouse through her own words, an Amy that challenges our previous notions surrounding her and her story.
Women in the Movies is a monthly Eyes on Screen feature by Emmy Brown which focuses on female directors, characters and issues within film.
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