Directed by Asif Kapadia
A documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse, the immensely talented yet doomed songstress. We see her from her teen years, where she already showed her singing abilities, to her finding success and then her downward spiral into alcoholism and drugs.
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★★★★ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
The best found-footage horror movie of the year, which also just so happens to be a fiercely perceptive documentary about a great artist laid low by enablers and a host of mental problems. If you've ever thought it might be nice to be famous, even for a little while, AMY will knock that desire right out of you forever.
I'm a lightweight when it comes to alcohol and I've never done drugs. But we've all had nights where we drink just a bit too much, and there comes that tipping point where you can stop and probably be fine the next day, or keep going and have a little more fun and a lot more trouble the next morning. AMY is structured like a night where you took the latter path. Early scenes are fun, warm, and charming. Amy Winehouse is an incandescent talent. Then, at a certain point, Winehouse (and the people around her) make some bad choices. And by the time anyone realizes what they've done (or, more accurately, didn't do), the damage had largely been done. Once you go past that tipping point, there's no turning back.
★★★★½ review by AJ Black on Letterboxd
You probably already have an opinion on Amy Winehouse. I know I did. Fuelled by the tabloids and the endless interviews and footage of her gigs and appearances. You probably know how her story ends. Amy, the latest painstaking documentary piece from Asif Kapadia--following the critically acclaimed Senna--assumes that knowledge yet also projects a timeline, a chronology, from the birth of an edgy North London Jewish jazz singer to the decline of a global music icon. It's a story you know on the face of it yet Kapadia scratches under the surface to paint a picture of an Amy the tabloids didn't always portray, beyond the drug-addled, self-destructive Camden socialite, the picture of an enormously talented singer-songwriter brought to the abyss thanks to a myriad of negative influences in her life. The tale itself is heart-wrenching and difficult, at times, to watch; the way Amy as a piece of work is constructed elevates it to become a rather beautiful, melodic documentary which weaves Winehouse's rich, soulful tunes and uses them to, in many respects, tell her story. Amy really did give us everything through her lyrics - until this film, we didn't really know it.
One of the crucial reasons why you may become so drawn into the tale of Amy is because of Kapadia's choice to let her, and the footage available, tell that story; from the humble beginnings as a raw, edgy North London youth with her close core of childhood friends as she is discovered by a record label, all the way through her short but remarkable candle of a life. Amy explains herself - she never wanted fame, it wanted her. All she desired was to write and sing pure jazz, she wasn't interested in the pop charts and didn't define success in the same way as many contemporaries; success to her was performing on a level that she could honour people like her idol Tony Bennett, indeed just months before her death when she duets with him, it's a genuinely humble and lump in the throat moment for the audience. That's the other thing Kapadia does, he layers Amy with a sense of impending tragedy, given almost everyone will know Amy Winehouse ultimately passes on; the chronology feels like it's building toward that moment from the get go, and consequently choosing to frame events in her life from the point of her discovery as an artist allows him to depict the point of her development, her personal change and ultimately her self-destruction. It's sympathetic to her but in many ways rightly so.
Kapadia is particularly keen to emphasise the negative influences that led Amy to her demise, because while she was ultimately a weak character unable to exercise any self-control--and thus must accept some personal responsibility for her death--arguably she may still be alive if it were not for certainly two very key players in her life: Blake Fielder and the Britisj press. Her parents--father Mitch especially--neglect and selfishness also factored but those scars were more psychological, whereas Blake & the media actively brought on their demise. The constant voice-overs from key figures in Amy's life (Blake included, sounding haunted & broken), footage of a million flashing cameras hounding her from dawn to dusk and Amy's own recorded taped messages show her psychological and physical destruction as her fame grows to epic proportions, with addictions her only solace - be it Blake or alcohol, coke & heroin. Kapadia lets her lyrics do much of the talking too, choosing key songs with the words flashing on screen to display how Amy channeled all her therapy into writing, with both her albums 'Frank' & 'Back to Black' displaying her mental state and how her relationships worked at various points in time. It doesn't just remind us how beautiful her music was, or how great a writer & vocalist she became, but adds to the pathos of her story. If she had only been able to reach out to the right people at the right time, she may not have been swallowed by a deeply troubled narcissist and the corporate media machine.
In many respects, Amy serves ultimately as a cautionary tale, a warning to young men and women with talent that the excesses of the music industry have not receded in these more conservative days. It was only four years ago that Amy Winehouse lost her life, chewed up and spat out by the machine that enveloped her, and without doubt it could happen again. Asif Kapadia quite expertly lets the story tell itself, let's the facts and recoded evidence speak for itself, and ultimately give Amy her own voice from beyond the grave. As with any story, we'll never know it like Amy herself did, and few would really comprehend such a whirlwind of a life. What this picture does is quite tragically, and quite beautifully, depict a life that need not have been extinguished. You may not be a fan of Amy Winehouse's music but if you don't respect her talent or feel deeply sad for her fate, it would be a shame.
★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
Las Vegas Weekly review, in which I didn't have enough space to do much more than generalize. As noted, this is basically just a Behind the Music episode writ large, but the overly familiar trajectory is offset to some degree by (a) the horrific speed with which Winehouse goes into a tailspin after achieving stardom, and (b) the remarkably intimate home-video footage Kapadia was able to secure. Saddest moment by far is someone (Fielder-Civil, I think) obnoxiously prodding her to provide updated "Rehab" lyrics while she's actually in rehab and receiving the meekly defiant reply "I don't mind it here." And as poorly as her father comes across, I still got a bit weepy when Tony Bennett takes the stage at the 2008 Grammies to announce Record of the Year and Winehouse, watching from London, nearly has a coronary before she even wins. "Dad, Tony Bennett!"
★★★★★ review by Erik on Letterboxd
i always cry CONSTANTLY when i watch this movie but also how is woody allen still living when amy winehouse isnt
★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
Yes, I live under a rock.
I remember hearing the news of Amy Winehouse’s passing on the radio, or a newspaper, and thinking, oh, just another pop star that I don’t know dies of some form of excess. I then didn’t really give it another thought.
I haven’t listened to pop radio in years. We don’t Spotify or Rhapsody or the like. I’m not even sure which are available in Canada. Back in the 80’s, I’d probably buy 20 to 30 albums a month. Strange how things change. Nowadays, between my wife and my collections over the years we have a ( 30,000+ ) song library on our music server that we just search and play. My wife has an account with e.music, and so we collect 60 or so new tracks a month. The end of the month is usually a panic to try and find what to download. We never came across Amy Winehouse.
What a talent. What a loss.
I love modern Jazzy female singers like Holly Cole and Dianna Krall but Winehouse is a whole new level. She’s an Ella, she’s a Billie, she’s an old soul aching; and I can hear it in every word.
Not knowing her before this introduction, I was rather distanced from her tragic story. The one thing that broke my heart, though, was the intrusiveness of it all. In the old days, there were maybe some private snaps or 8mm home movies … not like today where our lives can be documented on video from sunup to sunrise. I felt sorry for her; I felt embarrassed looking it, like a voyeur.
Needless to say, we bought her 3 CD’s … ‘cause we’re old school … like her.
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