Amy (2015): Asif Kapadia's intoxicating documentary showcasing the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse

A Jazz Life in Review

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Anirban Lahiri

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Amy (2015), Movie Poster, Directed by Asif Kapadia, Amy Winehouse
Amy (2015) - By Asif Kapadia
Our Rating: 7.5
IMDb Ratings: 7.6
Genre: Documentary | Biography | Music 
CastAmy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Mark Ronson
Country: UK
Language: English
Runtime: 128 min
Color: Color

Summary: The story of Amy Winehouse in her own words, featuring unseen archival footage and unheard tracks.

What do you think of a girl who buys her own guitar and starts writing music at fourteen, records her first album at twenty, receives five Grammies for two numbers at twenty-five, and dies of alcohol poisoning at twenty-seven? Soaked in intoxicants, while one of her albums was staying at the UK No 1 chart, how did she feel?

Amy is a treat for soul, R&B and Jazz lovers; nay music lovers. The feature length documentary showcases the singer Amy Winehouse’s rise and fall based on archived material, recorded shows and more than 100 interviews of Amy’s family, personal and professional friends, and people who knew her closely. A talented, troubled life is chiseled out of memory and magazines.


A Still from Asif Kapadia's Amy
A Still from Asif Kapadia's Amy
Rolling Stone magazine published seven covers of Amy since her debut album Frank in 2003. She was among the top three performing artists of the world, just beyond Beyonce and Lady Gaga with a mid-six-figure fee per concert. At the same time, she was playing with her own life and those of others who were with her. She sparked like a meteor; rose high very quickly, recorded only two albums in her lifetime, and passed away all on a sudden when she appeared to be coming out of drugs. They say, magnificent talents need a magnificent vessel—the body and soul of the artist. That has to be cultivated. Tagore remarked, in writing, that most people have great talents, but few know how to domesticate that.

Amy, the film, starts with an old fashioned handycam shoot of one of her first public performances, in a competition, singing Moon River. Straightaway, from there, it takes us to the Grammy Award, 2008, where her Back to Black and Rehab were nominated in six categories, and went to win five of them. The entire film, after that, went through flash backs and forwards, dilly-dallying between high-noise handycam image and the better professional image. The treatment is more drastic than Senna (2010)—the other biographical documentary made by Asif Kapadia.


A Still from Asif Kapadia's Amy, playing Guitar
A Still from Asif Kapadia's Amy
Usually a predetermined bias, as to handling of the real-life plot, is chosen by a biopic director. That becomes more conflicting when the person in focus had a controversial life, or when there is a scope for social debate. Singers lead a preposterous life, mostly because their talent lies in their voice, which is ephemeral. This is the problem with any performing artist. After Napster and mp3, music recording industry is dead. Although the sale of CDs were high still in 2003, when Amy debuted, the revenue for artists like her comes from night concerts. Quick fame ruined most performing artists. Drug and spirit have some unknown connection to music. The link to Dionysus and Bacchus through Orpheus, the greatest musician of all times, lingers in mystery. Amy stitched a pastiche of usual incidents and characters around that intoxication and wantonness myth.

We have not seen such a musical biopic in recent times. The film opened with a roar, last week, in the UK, and in New York and Los Angeles. The film had the biggest opening weekend for a documentary, at $222,015, which is more than Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. It is predicted to be a massive hit in the overseas markets, across Asia and Latin America, where the Jazz craze has been renewed in the last two decades.


A Still from Asif Kapadia's Amy
A Still from Asif Kapadia's Amy
We, the music lovers, want to explore the connections between a song, its performance and the singer’s private life. Dollops of paparazzi activities add incentives to that. People pay money to get a touch of that mysticism. When that mysticism crosses an excess, the performance is halted. At that juncture, the same fan, AKA fanatics, want their money back. Exactly that was recorded in a public performance where Amy looked drugged and clueless on stage, after her rehab experience.

This film tries to show a life in excess, through snapshots. It connects beautifully in today’s age of mass commodification, where everything sells. The price that a sold-out life has to pay may be death. Probably this is why today’s generation of music lovers flock to watch their own dream in theatres. Amy, indeed, works as a mirror.

Verdict: Good for Mutiple Watch. Important for performance art enthusiasts. Lots of previously unseen footage.

About Author - 


Anirban is a Cinematographer and film teacher. After a marathon teaching of filmmaking for five years in Digital Academy, Mumbai, he is busy writing his own film now. He was with DearCinema during its first phase. Steeped in cultural theory, observation and history, he sees all his work as part of a continuum – critique. Anirban consciously plays the role of a critic while shooting films, teaching, writing stories, and of course while critiquing. His favourite filmmakers are Sergei Eisenstein, Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, Ritwik Ghatak, Satyaji Ray, Luis Buñuel, Andrei Tarkovsky, Abbas Kiarostami and Nagisa Oshima, to name a few.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

References:



Amy (2015) Trailer (YouTube)

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