Admittedly I’m not a particularly massive fan of Amy Winehouse one way or the other, so naturally a documentary like Amy was never going to appeal to me hugely on a personal level. However, I can’t deny Asif Kapadia’s work is a perfectly well-made and intelligent film that doesn’t slip into sentimental heartstring-pulling to draw easy emotional responses in the way so many lesser documentaries do. He doesn’t pretend that the ending of the film is going to come as any shock to anyone, so it doesn’t become a long, protracted sob-story in its closing minutes. Structurally, the film dwells longer on her slow, painful downfall in the sharp eye of the paparazzi rather than tearful platitudes from friends and family.
Format-wise, Kapadia avoids the use of talking heads in all but perhaps one or two moments. Mostly Amy is composed of archival footage taken from a huge variety of sources – friends’ homemade videos, TV appearances, interviews and so forth – whilst we hear, rather than see, the interviewees. In addition, during excerpts of her songs lyrics are shown on the screen, a clever device which allows the singer’s music to speak for itself rather than have it overtaken by dull plaudits from various luminaries. Indeed, so personal were her lyrics at times that they often tell the story better than the documentary itself, and Amy does a great job at explaining why Amy Winehouse’s music had such an impact then and now.
Amy also steps away from overtly pointing fingers in regards to who is to blame for her downward spiral and eventual death. It does subtly present various characters in her life in a bad light, but this is achieved by the material that Kapadia chooses to present rather than any obvious attempts to spin the evidence in one direction or another, but that is a natural side-effect of any documentary or historical account as presented by a talented documentarian. A few figures in particular jump out as particularly scummy, namely her dad Mitch Winehouse and her on-again-off-again ex-husband Blake Fielder.
These two figures actually cause the film to inadvertently stumble onto one of my favourite themes today: what an utter shitebag of a town London is, and how awful Londoners are. Amy Winehouse’s dad comes off as a typical East End cockney geezer cunt, a Del-Boy type but without any of the warmth or humour, a man more interested in cashing in on his daughter’s fame rather than taking care of her. In particular there is a moment in the film where, at the height of her fame and excess, Amy decides to hide away in St. Lucia to recover from the drugs and the drink, and so Mitch decides to bring a shitty ITV crew with him to the island for one of their stroke-inducingly stupid reality made-for-TV documentaries. So just another cockney cunt. Blake Fielder on the other hand, is a typical, useless Camden town hipster cunt, so he’s even worse. Like all Camden hipster cunts, he has shitty tattoos, probably makes a big deal of drinking Fairtrade coffee whilst doing cocaine and dumps Amy before her fame explodes, only to reappear after the success of Back to Black, after which point he simply seems to encourage to use as many drugs as possible to ensure he can get more drugs for himself.
Basically, I really fucking hate London, and Amy only confirms my beliefs about the place. What a shitty fucking dump of a city, and what an awful group of residents it contains. Bah.
But anyway, Asif Kapadia certainly doesn’t shy away from showing some of the more depressing moments of Amy Winehouse’s life: frequent cuts away to armies of paparazzi assaulting her with flash cameras are admittedly distressing and painful to watch and one can only feel sympathy for her. Amy is perhaps a little overlong, and there are times where the screen lingers on homemade videos of Winehouse messing about with friends to the point of the viewer getting bored – the equivalent of a stuffy aunt showing you their holiday snaps – which does detract from the overall professionalism and quality of the film. Talented though she was, Amy Winehouse’s music never really touched me down to my soul so to an extent I never quite felt attached to her story, even though I was wholly sympathetic. Most likely this film will be much more interesting for those who have a better relationship to her music, and rightfully so, for it is a solid documentary that her fans and admirers will appreciate.