Studio: A24 Films (1 hr. 30 min.)
Plot: A portrait on the life of Amy Winehouse, one of the biggest music icons in British history.
Cast: Yasiin Bey, Tony Bennett, Juliette Ashby, Lauren Gilbert, Nick Shymansky
Bottom Line: ****
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Artfully constructed, thoughtfully compiled “Amy” is ultimately a heartbreaking documentary. The film tells the story of six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse whose troubled relationships and addictions led her into a tragic cycle of self-destruction, resulting in her untimely death at age 27.
Her story is undoubtedly a tragedy and director Asif Kapadia (“Senna”) paints it like it was with a stylish juxtaposition of archival footage and adventurous, raw filmmaking telling it through her lyrics which appear on screen throughout the film.
Making full use of home movies, audio interviews, personal photos, much of it never before released to the public, he shades in the stark sketch of the suburban Jewish kid from North London who poured her heart and soul into her music, expressing personal struggles and pain through her intimate lyrics. Snippets of recordings, notes and poetry she wrote and interviews excerpts dance across the screen adding up to a mesmerizing portrait of this young woman who captured the world’s attention with her unforgettable voice.
Kapadia talks to numerous people who really knew Winehouse. These include some of her famous friends (Yasiin Bey, Tony Bennett), her not so famous friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, who were two of her oldest and closest friends, her bodyguard, Andrew Morris and her first manager Nick Shymansky who held a lot of the footage integral to making this film a possibility. All present completely different reflections and experiences of Winehouse and not all of them matched with each other.
Charting her meteoric rise to fame, we first meet her childhood friends Lauren and Juliette who stood by her through both the good and bad times. We meet the absent father, Mitch Winehouse, who she adored and who also advised her against going into rehab although she clearly needed to and we also meet her husband Blake Fielder, who introduced her to cocaine and heroin.
A majority of the film focuses on 2005, the year when a great deal happened in her life and when she was out of the publicity cycle and started dabbling in drugs. So there is a built-in sense of discomfort watching some of her most private moments unspool in this utterly captivating and well-constructed film.
There are also some lighthearted moments where she shows extraordinary sensitivity and occasional black humor during press interviews.
Asif Kapadia’s film is about Winehouse’s life, and it’s an astonishing document, featuring a treasure trove of material he was given access to. He has crafted a very innovative biography here, creating his own montage of sound and visuals to capture the life and work of the jazz/pop singer.
One will leave the cinema impressed at the film and its subject, while sad that her tragic end was inevitable. Fans seeking a straightforward account of her life and career — or much of the world that shaped it will find it here.
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This article was printed in the August 9, 2015 - August 22, 2015 edition.