The Amy Winehouse story is well known. The talented young jazz singer thrust into a world of intense fame who ultimately became unravelled because of addiction. Asif Kapadia’s new film, simply titled Amy, sheds a new light on the troubled singer’s life and unpacks the assumptions made of her.
Kapadia’s tireless research is commendable. Trawling through home videos, old interviews and performances, the director paints the image of someone who was unable to separate her stage life from her private life. Ominously, Winehouse says in an early interview: “I don’t think I could handle being famous, I would go mad.” Small touches in the film, such as her handwritten lyrics appearing while she sings, gives the impression of a raw performer, who, unlike some of her contemporaries, was unable to create an alter ego to protect herself.
The film has worked admirably to recreate the “Rehab” singer’s image from her final days. The transformation from the confident young woman performing at the drop of a hat, to her final performance in Sarajevo, stumbling drunk and incoherent on stage, is especially heartbreaking.
Kapadia however challenges the notion that Winehouse’s death was inevitable. The film is nearly totally objective, but at the same time takes a broad swing at those who were willing to goggle at the Winehouse circus, and even profit from it; from Amy herself to her family, especially her frustratingly oblivious father Mitch. The film shows the media’s ruthless hounding of her as a story to sell papers and the public for buying it up. Her ex-manager Nick Shymansky remembers: “all of a sudden, it was funny to make of fun of someone with a drug addiction.”
It’s a tough task to present a story with a well-known tragic ending. But Kapadia gives the viewer an insight into Winehouse’s life that new-comers to the story will be captivated by and fans will love.