AMY (UK/15A/128mins)
Directed by Asif Kapadia. Starring Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Nick Shymansky, Mark Ronson, Yasiin Bey, Tony Bennett, Blake Fielder-Civil, Tyler James, Salaam Remi, Juliette Ashby.
THE PLOT: Talking to over 100 people, and spending over 20 months in editing, director Asif Kapadia presents a chronological career diary of Amy Winehouse, the London-born soulster who became an international, Grammy-winning, multi-platinum-selling sensation in 2006, with her second album, Back To Black. Her Blood On The Tracks, charting the painful break-up with Blake Fielder-Civil, the man she believed was the love of her life, Back To Black would make Amy a star, and send her on such a fame spiral that, for her remaining five years, she would never get to record another album. The contrast of the young, vibrant, cheeky girl out on the road promoting her first album, 2003’s Frank, against the increasingly haggard and high Amy that the parapazzi came to love and hound provides much of the emotional punch here. Towards the end, there were still flashes of brilliance, of mischief, of that inspired young soul sister, but the well-documented tragic downfall rears its ugly head early on here…
THE VERDICT: A classic rise and fall, the late Amy Winehouse’s career reads like a modern-day fable, a join-the-dots guide to the pitfalls of fame, but it’s also a timeless in its depiction of an artist who was willing to walk the walk. Having fallen in love with those jazz giants who gave their heart and soul to music, Winehouse was smart enough to recognise the familiar pattern her life was following, but not quite smart enough, it seems, to avoid its inevitable sorry, messy fade-out.
Or perhaps she was, only there were those around Amy Winehouse who didn’t want this golden goose sober up and fly straight? Director Asif Kapadia – who did such an incredible job with SENNA, the 2010 cut-and-paste documentary on the late, great Brazilian Formula 1 driver – claims to have no agenda here beyond telling Amy’s story. There may be no target of blame, but it’s not too hard to recognise who the baddies are here. Each would say that Amy was ultimately out of their control, but, as the dazed and confused young star clearly lost control, that’s when those closest to her should have grabbed the wheel. Instead, as the iceberg veers into view, the best that Kapadia can do is present us with the facts as he found them.
That his documentary reminds you first and foremost just how wonderful Amy Winehouse was makes her sad, scattered end all the more painful.
Review by Paul Byrne

Review by Paul Byrne
4.0A modern-day fable
  • filmbuff2011

    Director Asif Kapadia follows up his probing, award-winning documentary Senna with Amy, a bracingly honest and moving documentary about the late, great jazz singer Amy Winehouse. Three years in the making, it’s a riveting film that revels in her talent but also tackles her battles with drink, drugs, neglectful lovers, the music industry and ultimately, herself. It starts in happier days with bright-eyed, cheeky teenage Amy making a tentative move into the music industry in 2001. Shy and unable to even think about how she would deal with fame, the idealistic Amy wants to write songs that are directly personal to her and speak about what she’s thinking and going through. Her father Mitchell leaving her mother was a seismic event in her life. But fame soon follows her, given her astonishingly rich and powerful voice that emanates not from her throat but somewhere deeper, like her soul. A toxic relationship with husband Blake Fielder-Civil led to battles with substance abuse that she regularly won and then lost. Then things start to spiral out of control for Amy, as media intensity on her unstable life increases and she loses interest in her one great passion: singing… Kapadia is something of an objective observer when it comes to Amy Winehouse – he never met her or saw her perform and didn’t even know that much about her when first approached about making the film. That could have resulted in a distant film that never really gets close to its subject, but thankfully that doesn’t happen here. Without burdens or expectations being placed on him, Kapadia instead sets out to set the record straight on Amy, to cut through the paparazzi fodder and discover the real young woman behind that amazing voice. He adopts the same documentary style as in Senna, avoiding talking heads and instead relying on archive footage and home movies blended with voiceover. In doing so, he skillfully pieces together an intimate story about Amy, as told through the perspectives of her family, her managers, friends, lovers, musicians and of course, herself. There has been recent media commentary in which Mitchell and the Winehouse family have distanced themselves from the film, given that Amy was on a path of self-destruction and needed help. Her tragic death from alcohol poisoning and subsequent joining of The 27 Club is a sign that maybe more could have been done to help her. But Kapadia isn’t interested in laying blame at anyone’s doorstep. This is a joyous and yet bittersweet documentary that celebrates her undeniable contribution to music, paving the way for the likes of Adele. Perhaps everything we need to know about Amy Winehouse is in her lyrics. If there’s one documentary you should see this year, then it’s Amy. ****

  • emerb

    “Amy” is a superb but heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of the late British singer/songwriter sensation and uniquely talented soul queen, Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol related heart failure at just 27. It is brought to us by Bafta-winning British director Asif Kapadia who made his name with his brilliant 2012
    biographic documentary “Senna”. With “Amy”, we have a similarly tragic chronicle of the needless death of an iconic figure. For me, it was a gripping and very effective piece of archive-heavy documentary which is cleverly over laid with contemporary audio videos. Kapadia tells her troubled life story through intimate interviews with friends and family members, home videos, camera footage, snippets of her performances and interviews, tv shows and voice mail messages. He digs deep into the myth that she was just another self-destructive celeb overcome by drugs and fame and uncovers a deeper and more sympathetic story.

    The movie starts in 1998 during Amy’s teenage years where she grew up in Southgate, London. At 16, she’s a bright, pretty, witty, affable Jewish girl who is clearly enjoying life to the full. Alongside her clearly rebellious streak, she has the
    voice of an old fashioned jazz singer and is a supremely gifted and once-in-a-generation talent. Kapadia does not concentrate so much on her singing and talent, but rather the girl behind the voice and her painful back story. A troubled
    but not deprived childhood saw her father , Mitch, leave the family home when she was just nine. Her mother Janice was unable to control her daughter’s wayward character and passed her over to her Grandmother who died in the midst of Amy’s rise to fame. On anti-depressants from a young age, we gradually learn of the emotional scars from her parents’ separation and how deeply affected she was.

    We then move on to a fresh-faced Winehouse using the proceeds of her successful debut album “Frank”(2003) to buy a flat and a lively interview with Jonathan Ross. However, with “Frank” and fame came money and indulgence and the start of all her problems. She was clearly dangerously ill-equipped for the superstardom that came
    her way and became completely intertwined in a world of alcohol and drugs and it’s tragic to see her disintegrate. Winehouse was so off the rails at this stage that her friends and manager took her out of London to encourage her to go into rehab in November 2005.

    “Amy” is successful because it manages to both celebrate Winehouse’s talent and yet at the same time, lament her circumstances. With the release of “Back to
    Black” in 2006, a change of management and marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil,
    Amy reaches the pinnacle of her success. But the marriage is toxic and turbulent and ends in divorce and combined with her drug and alcohol dependency and her eating disorders ruining her health, her career begins to suffer. Winehouse’s refusal and inability to sing at a Belgrade concert because she was drunk was the worst point of her professional life and tragically it turned out to be her last on-stage performance. At the end of the film, we see some tender footage of Amy performing with her idol, Tony Bennett, only a few months before her death. This gives us a glimpse into the wonderful music career she could have enjoyed and Bennett is full of praise, feeling her memory should be preserved alongside those of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Blake Fielder-Civil, Amy’s bad-boy jailbird lover emerges the worst of all. It was he who introduced her to hard drugs and a dysfunctional relationship (and inspired many songs on “Back To Black”) but her absentee father isn’t painted in a wonderful light either as he even tried to turn his daughter’s fame into a reality tv show. Mitch Winehouse and Reg Traviss (Winehouse’s partner at the time of her death) argue that it is unfairly biased and only shows part of the story. Her family has publicly dissociated themselves from the film and Traviss has argued that in the last two years of her life, when he was with her, Amy was much happier than the documentary claims. While all of her advisors, promoters and managers deny they were responsible for her descent into drugs and overwork, I don’t think Kapadia has sought to blame anyone. He just shows us all the negative influences in her life – her parents, drugs, the toxic relationship with her husband, opportunistic promotors, the ravenous public, the constant media pressure together with her own inner demons. He makes it clear that nobody was solely responsible for Winehouse’s problems. It was just a tragedy that spiraled out of control and nothing could be done to save her from herself in the end.

    There are no big bombshells or revelations but despite the fact that we know the ending, “Amy” is nonetheless a powerful, moving and emotionally raw documentary. It is well-made, gripping, shocking, intimate and genuinely very sad. I found myself completely engaged and absorbed from the start. I really felt that I was tracking every step Amy took along her tragic life journey, especially as the end approaches
    and we watch her slowly kill herself. Undoubtedly this movie will resonate particularly well with those who consider Winehouse one of the great lost voices of a generation and others will be curious to learn more about this young talent, I think this should ensure strong returns both in the UK and further afield.