This month marks the fourth year since the death of Amy Winehouse; no doubt, one of the greatest talents music will ever see.
While Asif Kapadia’s AMY celebrates the life of Amy Winehouse and her legendary career wholeheartedly, the film delves amongst a humanist, dark-cloud-dwelling and at times, harrowing recap into the tragic torment that felt as if it could have been prevented. Like the panic of a party popper exploding in your face, watching something you know is going to end in catastrophe is a cruel retrospect within this genre of filmmaking. But what it does do, is forces you to understand a few things about life - one being that these people don’t come around often and when they do, nurturing is a necessity.
Piecing together more than a few truths in the jigsaw puzzle that refused to slot comfortably into place and similar to Kapadia’s previous project Senna, AMY is composed almost completely of archive footage. It’s fair to say that a story like Amy’s could never be given to the artificiality of Hollywood or be made into an overdramatic, overtired and reworked piece of acting. Like ‘Frank’ and ‘Back to Black’, it needed to be told in its deepest, rawest form possible. The home grown clips cling to unattended emotional cavities, as you slowly begin to feel like you’re watching your own family member or close friend going through implausible highs and then sink to desolate lows. Whether it’s footage of Amy applying spot cream with the charming angst of a disgruntled teenager or half-awake with a sleepy grin in the back of a car driving to her first few gigs, Kapadia has the ability to take his audience from emotional relatability to gut spilt dread and despair.
As her extreme issues with relationships and fatal substance abuse at times attempted to overshadow her musical intelligence, Amy’s life became a media circus that refused to pack up and move on to its next victim. Kapadia reminds us of how the girl behind the beehive lent us her sweet nectar and in turn, blood soaked ballet pumps, face scarred with mascara and bruises and cheap jokes were regurgitated across the world. Kapadia hounds in on the lens of a camera as the extended metaphor of the film, as several eye watering shots of Amy directly looking through the glass causing rib grating, forth wall breaking aches. From singing happy birthday at a 14-year-old’s party to gazing through blinding paparazzi flashes, it’s the final guilty medium we all saw Amy’s downfall consciously pour through.
The absence of talking heads during interviews, whilst footage of Amy’s face and lyrics omnisciently blanket the screen, only further reinforces the purpose of the film. It’s a piece entirely about Amy, no one else. Pass the parcel narration is lent from various accounts of Amy’s life - from childhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, to the ominous, deepened voice of Blake Fielder - each one as eye opening and oxymoronic as the next. The most gutting example is met with stomach churning sadness, as Lauren Gilbert’s narration explains to how Amy admitted that how ‘this whole thing is boring without drugs’, just after winning five awards at the Grammys in 2008.
Being a modest and average film length (123 minutes), the muddy movement of the film and, no doubt, the downwards contextual plummet it falls into, does make it seem a little longer. Towards the end, the emotional investment and protective attitude you can’t help but take on from the reels of home video footage is ardently draining.
Kapadia’s film sets the record straight for the story we thought we all knew and like Amy’s music bids its success on weaving into every sentimental sensation. It makes you smile, laugh and feel proud and privileged that she was part of our generation. But when you’re left treading water for several years, it’s a matter of time until internal organs; muscles swimming in lactic acid and will power begin to drown. The overwhelming frustration to the point of tears the film capsizes onto its viewers makes you really realise how bad it actually got.
Tears will dry on their own, but Kapadia’s AMY proves how Amy Winehouse’s legacy will never be forgotten.