D: Asif Kapadia. E: Chris King. Featuring archived footage and new audio.
Deep into my dissertation writing on faux musical biopics, it is quite fitting that a documentary project like Amy should be released. Directed by Asif Kapadia whose previous project, Senna, brought him attention and awards, Amy is a distinct experience.
Amy follows the London born Amy Winehouse through sign posted chronology of her rise to success and painful fall into addiction that would claim her life in 2011. The film does attempt a chronology, but it isn’t caught up with showing everything and is better for it. Built around personal home video and performance footage the visual elements of the film capture Amy in her many stages. This means audiences see her as a young teen with her friends through to her disastrous performances. Much footage was clearly given personally to the project, a sign of Kapadia’s respectful handiwork.
Coupled with these videos are audio files of various friends, relatives and people who worked with Amy. Without the floating heads this audio commentary and stories transcends anything visually Kapadia could have done. The intimacy is tactile. Kapadia also uses Amy’s own song lyrics, writing them on screen to allow the subject herself to have a voice. There isn’t any denying that Amy had talent and it was remarkable. Thankfully Amy displays that for us to make the connection between her music and her life. Ultimately the success of the film is its stance behind its subject. Judgement is left behind and the film collects moments about its subject rather than attempting to rebuild the conflict that clearly her death represents.
Of course, Amy’s drug and alcohol addictions were complex. Amy takes the position of allowing many people to give their impressions without pointing fingers at the people in her life or on herself. This forces anyone sitting in a seat to ruminate on their own consumption of her struggles and death. Strobe flashes and footage of the paparazzi that staked out her Camden home beg the question, how responsible were we all for what happened? And why on earth did we watch it like it was television?