From the award-winning team behind the acclaimed documentary Senna comes this moving portrait of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse (14th September 1983 – 23rd July 2011). A pop star with soul, Winehouse’s rare musical ability made her a star while her chaotic personal life stole headlines. With rare interviews and never-before-seen archival footage, Amy takes us behind the headlines to reveal a prodigiously talented young woman whose life ended far too soon, at the age of just 27.
Two years after Senna’s release, that film’s producer, James Gay-Rees, was approached by David Joseph, the chairman and CEO of Universal Music UK. Joseph asked whether Gary-Rees, director Asif Kapadia and editor Chris King would be interested in turning their talents to another story about a modern-day icon whose life ended so abruptly. The filmmakers then spent almost a year trying to get a number of key people to participate in the interview process, including Winehouse’s two oldest friends and her first manager. They settled on the idea of telling the story, which unfolds chronologically, through the songwriter’s lyrics, which would appear on screen throughout the movie. As Gay-Rees puts it, she was this intense Jewish kid from North London who became a phenomenon, while editor Chris King says “writing was music therapy for Amy” and “it was compulsive”.
Super talented but deeply tormented. That’s the Amy Winehouse we see in this documentary. It was, indeed, excess that did her in – drugs, alcohol and bulimia, a potent cocktail. Fame didn’t sit easily on her shoulders. She was an ordinary girl who was catapulted to stardom, but who craved a simple life and anonymity. Importantly, the doco doesn’t hold back – it is a warts and all look at the life and times of Amy Winehouse, who crashed and burned when she had so much more left to give.
What stands out is the mountain of video footage that was available that makes the documentary so much richer. I am talking especially about vision from her as a teenager and just as her career was starting to take off. That was Winehouse with her best friends, clowning around and getting a foothold in the industry. Then, of course, there is much more as she rose to prominence. Clearly she was a handful from her earliest years and her parents broken marriage didn’t aid her cause. Thereafter, though, you get the impression that many people tried their best to help her, but ultimately she chose the path that led to her self-destruction, which was aided and abetted by her husband. To use a cliché, she was a train wreck waiting to happen.
Amy is insightful and illuminating, also deeply affecting as it shines a bright light on what is ultimately a human tragedy.
It is a great documentary that scores an 8½ out of 10.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Release Date: 2 July 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television