Film Review: Amy

I saw Amy Winehouse live twice. And while not technically accurate, I surmise it as: once when she was sober and once when she was drunk. To say there was a marked difference between the two would be an understatement. When Amy Winehouse wanted to sing, you stopped and you listened whether you liked Jazz music or not. Talent overrules all else.

I don’t mind Jazz from time to time and so was already drawn to her music, but with the media frenzy that hounded her very public battle with drink, drugs and mental illness you couldn’t help but be sucked along on the implosion that was her life. I can still clearly remember seeing her first ever appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks with her hair down and friendship in her eyes, a million miles away from the transformation to beehives, tattoos and eyes that held contempt that is now the image of her held in statue. And I will, for the rest of my life, remember working at my kitchen table when Radio 1 interrupted their schedule to announce she’d died.

Rich Hall, Phil Jupitus & Amy Winehouse - Never Mind The Buzzcocks

I didn’t know they were making a documentary about her life until I was in a cinema and the opening titles to the trailer rolled with Amy simply singing “Black” slowly over the top. My reaction, simply a tingle shooting straight down my spine at what was promised. Ever since her death, as more and more information about the torment of her life has come out, I have felt more and more sorrow towards her. While obviously, influenced by reporting, the stories of her struggles with mental illness and addiction, depression and eating disorders have acted for me as a constant reminder of the fragility of life and the need to seek help when needed.

The documentary has been compiled by Asif Kapadia, who also created the documentary Senna, and so, is almost able to tread previous ground with regards the style and structure of the piece. The stories are heading for the same, well known, conclusion. Kapadia uses the documentary not to tell a story but rather simply present the facts. He doesn’t want to take you on a journey answering questions for you. But rather take you on a journey that allows you to form you own answers.

Sadly though for me it just doesn’t work. The documentary feels very slow. There is a real sense of being stuck in the calm before the storm for long, long periods and they just aren’t able to camouflage the major elements, that are so well known, with enough depth to make you forget they will be along shortly. Which is such a shame because, when you get to spend time with the young, innocent Amy who only wants to make music, she is such a warm, loving and likeable person that you almost start to wish you didn’t know what was to come because it becomes almost too painful to realise the passion for life that music originally gave her is about to be clouded and extinguished so violently.

Amy Winehouse & Paparazzi

And that’s my next problem, because when turmoil and destruction do arrive everything starts to lose focus on Amy. The documentary does a very good job of really capturing the madness and instability of her life at that time but it felt like it was showing you what it was like to be her rather than showing you what she actually thought. The depiction of the paparazzi is a good example of this. They are in your face, blinding and aggressive, but you feel these emotions yourself, you never truly feel how Amy felt towards them. It obviously wouldn’t be friendly, but you’re never sure to the extent she may differ to you. She disappears emotionally into a shell and you never really feel like you’re ever let back in.

As I said earlier Amy is presented in a way that wants to be factual. It simply wants to tell the story from the evidence it’s got and let you make up your mind. However, there were a few times, especially towards the end where I suddenly realised that what I was being told as fact, appeared to be the subtle twisting of a personal opinion. A bodyguard or a friend telling you how Amy felt, loved or dreamed and without any evidence to back it up, it simply left me unsure of everything. I’d formed all my thoughts and opinions. I had portioned blame onto those around her I felt let her down and suddenly, I felt uneasy to stand by my ideas.¬†There can be no question that Amy Winehouse was let down badly by a support network who got swept up in a world that went out of control. There are a handful of comments and lines in the piece, people talking about what they did or said that made me sit there and just want to scream because the biggest thing to come out of the documentary for me was that Amy knew she was out of her depth. She knew she needed help, and I now believe she wanted help to. I don’t think you can blame any one person for what happened, or how it reached the point it did. I think too many little mistakes all snowballed into the most tragic of conclusions, but it’s fair to say that while the overview of Amy I had, has remained, the way I see the people in the world she created has.

Amy Winehouse (Death) - Camden Tribute

Amy isn’t as hard hitting a documentary as it looks, it’s more reflective and sad. There are moments of voyeuristic repulsion, and I especially detested the way it handled her death, but ultimately, the tone is just one of grief. I left feeling once again distraught by the lack of basic care and support for anybody suffering with mental health issues, because the signs were there and the world just passed them by. There are moments that shocked me, moments that I wished Amy had been frozen in time, kept as the innocent young girl with the amazing voice, and not self destroyed by her own mind. There were even times when I just wanted to ring my Mum and say sorry for the pain, hurt and suffering my own implosion through mental health caused her. But in the end it just left me feeling numb.

It’s an interesting documentary and it works within it’s limitations well, but ultimately, it’s not something I think I’d want to watch twice. Not because it emotionally ripped me apart, but because it didn’t.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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