Cinematic Releases: Amy

amy movie documentary
We finally had a chance to review the Amy Winehouse documentary. Read it here!

amy movie
Asif Kapadia’s new documentary profile of the late and troubled 27 year old British blue-eyed soul icon Amy Winehouse is a somewhat slanted but overall fascinating portrait that will leave casual moviegoers and music listeners in as much awe of the singer’s musical talent as horror at the sight of her inevitable downfall.  

Familiar to almost everyone, the story of a confident yet deeply needful woman caught in the chaotic and noisy whirlwind of fame and fortune, drugs and alcohol, it’s a bittersweet tale of tragedy of an artist’s life spiraling out of control and the key figures in her life who stood by while enabling it to happen.  That said, Amy is not all doom and gloom, however, as it also represents a collage of some of her best and worst moments onstage, Winehouse in the act of creating and highlighting her development from aspiring musician to as one colleague termed it, “a force of nature”.   If you weren’t a fan of Amy Winehouse before buying a ticket to Kapadia’s movie, chances are you might be after it’s over.  While I could have used less superimposed lyrics onscreen as she sang them with increasingly artistic font renderings, her songs speak for themselves as to why Winehouse is still a relevant topic of conversation to this very day.

Comprised almost entirely of preexisting footage, photographs and audio interviews both old and newly conducted for the film, Kapadia’s approach to dissecting Winehouse’s life refrains from the usual routine of in-camera interviews save for a few archival ones with the singer.  For the most part Amy relies on voiceover narration cut to montages of Winehouse both in the public and from personal home movies from her youth and marriage to the man most directly responsible for igniting her self-destructive tendencies.  As a result of being a still divisive figure in the music industry for her enormous talent but still disturbing implosion, Amy isn’t liked by all as the quote on quote definitive documentary on the artist’s life.  

movie documentary
Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse, for instance, is currently preparing his own rebuttal documentary to give his version of the story.  What’s more, for as hard to watch as some of her more desperate moments of self-sabotage are, you can’t help but notice some of the more egregious bits popularized by internet videos have been curiously left out of this documentary.  In direct contrast to detractors’ claims the documentary exploits and sensationalizes the singer’s notoriously bad behavior, Amy tends to sugar coat the depths to which her personal struggles spilled out into her professional life.  Among the more infamous episodes in Winehouse’s career involved snorting cocaine during a live performance, something I was surprised to see didn’t make the documentary. 

Imperfect but still profoundly moving with a funereal eulogy of sorts closing the picture, Amy’s look at one musician’s revitalization of mainstream interest in both blues and jazz invites sympathy as well as pity for the troubled yet gifted artist.  Those expecting all of their questions about the singer to be answered or even those who were looking to gawk will emerge somewhat disappointed.  As a casual listener and relative newcomer to the musician’s life and career, the doc will more than satisfy with an overall well rounded portrait of a gifted creative musician whose candle burning at both ends extinguished her flame far too quickly.  Much of what’s here will undoubtedly be familiar to the avid Winehouse completest who know the ins and outs of her story and as such in the eyes of some comprising only half of the story.  For the uninitiated, it’s a pretty good introduction to Winehouse’s music and her story as told here has the capacity to break your heart.  If nothing else, Amy serves up an engaging introductory chapter to the work of an extraordinary music icon who peaked and burned out far too early in her career and eventually her life.


-Andrew Kotwicki

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