Director Asif Kapadia takes a look back over the life of singer Amy Winehouse, through archive footage, home movies and interviews with her friends and family.
Screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Amy has already seen justified praise heaped upon it, even as her family came out against the film. There is little doubt that Amy Winehouse was always the focus of an invasive spotlight, but Asif Kapadia aims to dig a little deeper through interviews with her friends and family.
Kapadia starts Winehouse’s story in her teenage years, and tracks though her life in chronological order. What emerges is a portrait of a woman who seemed to have struggled for most of her life; with addiction, relationships and depression. Those closest to her – friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, her parents Mitch and Janice, and those who got to know her later in life, including Yasiin Bey and Tony Bennett – give their versions of Amy’s story, while the singer herself gets to chime in through the use of archive footage and interviews.
What emerges through the film is a portrait of a young woman who was thoroughly human; she had struggles the same as the rest of us, but these were exacerbated when she was thrown into the limelight at such a young age, without a strong support system around her. Fame was something that Winehouse never really wanted – she is quoted in the film as saying ‘If I really thought I was famous, I’d go and top myself or something because it’s a frightening thing’ – but she found herself living in a fishbowl, obsessed and addicted to man who seemed to want to control her (Blake Fielder-Civil) and lacking a strong professional system around her to help her survive the tsunami of fame that washed her away.
Amy also examines the impact of the tabloid frenzy around Amy Winehouse; she seemed to have been hounded every time she stepped foot outside her house, and this obviously had a huge effect on her since she only ever really cared about the music, not the fame that went with it. In this way, Amy is a damning indictment of the media industry, and how we – as people – consume the media. By clicking an image of Amy Winehouse at her worst, we indirectly sent the paparazzi to her door once more. It was a vicious circle for both media consumers and Winehouse herself, and the footage of her being surrounded outside of her home is truly frightening.
There are no simple answers when it comes to Amy Winehouse, and the hindsight is 20/20, but Asif Kapadia’s film is a powerful and intimate examination of the systematic failures of the people that surrounded the vulnerable Winehouse. It is easy to forget how young she was at the height of her fame since her voice and lyrics were so mature, but Amy reminds audiences that when Back to Black was released, Amy Winehouse was a 23 year old woman who was obviously at a loss to cope with this new world she found herself in, and for whom help did not seem to be forthcoming. A powerful, tragic and stunning piece of work, one that Amy Winehouse herself would surely have hated.