Never have I watched a film that has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
Amy, Asif Kapadia’s new documentary about singer Amy Winehouse, was one of the most moving pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen. The mixture of archive footage and conversations with her closest friends and family really gave you an insight into the troubled singer’s life. Kapadia recorded the interviews without a camera and instead with microphones in a dim lit room.This meant that those being interviewed felt much more ‘secure’ and are therefore more honest in their opinions and stories. It’s a gripping documentary from start to finish because of this.
It’s beautifully edited, with video footage and images sewn together seamlessly. The backbone of the documentary are the lyrics for the songs which Winehouse wrote, and Kapadia gives you a deeper understanding as to what she was feeling and what she was going through at the time of putting pen to paper. Her songs were written from the heart, something which is rarely found in modern day, manufactured pop. She was an original person, and a spectacular musical artist. She had a real songwriting talent and her songs will be timeless.
Amy Winehouse meant so many things to many different people; to some, she was a young girl with an incredible voice, and to others she was an inspiration and a ray of hope for people also fighting their own demons (see Sarah Walker’s brilliant piece in The Guardian).
For me, Amy’s story is one of the most tragic of our generation, and this is very much brought to light in the film. A young girl whose father ran off when she was just 9, leaving her mother to look after the family. It was at this point, Winehouse was aware she’d gone off the rails, smoking and drinking, getting a tattoo, piercings – a typical teenage rebellion. She also suffered with bulimia, a disorder which both parents were aware of, but both pushed to the side. It was the bulimia, not the drugs, which killed her according to her brother.
“Our media is more interested in tragedy than talent” – Russell Brand
The other realisation that you have when you watch Amy is that, in some ways, we were all responsible for her death. She quite openly said that if she was ever famous, she’d probably go mad, and there is quite the juxtaposition in personality between the Amy we see talking in home video footage, to the Amy we see being chased by a barage of paparazzi. You can feel a tremendous amount of guilt when you watch this film because we all remember reading article after article about her bloodied shoes where the heroin had been injected, the denim shorts falling off her frail body, her bedraggled beehive and smudged mascara, and we all had a hand in buying those stories. As Russell Brand wrote, “Our media is more interested in tragedy than talent and instead of praising her talent, we were now eagle eyeing her downfall”.
Kapadia also includes chilling clips of comedians such as Frankie Boyle saying “She looks like a campaign poster for neglected horses”. Even at the time it wasn’t funny, but now she’s died it’s actually quite disturbing how little these people knew about mental illness.
The film also brings to light the relationship which she had with her father, and it isn’t any wonder he’s now kicking up a storm about it all. It shows a pretty negative portrayal of him, the fact he was never around when she was younger, and then as soon as she was famous, he was never out of her life, making his own television show called “My Daughter Amy“, the exact thing which Amy didn’t want – the less publicity she had, the better. Most people in the documentary also criticise Mitch’s decisions, possibly rightly. For example, he didn’t let her go into rehab when she needed to.
The documentary left me with a strange feeling, and I didn’t really know what to make of it. All she wanted to be was a singer, and she didn’t want the fame that engulfed her. There’s a haunting video of her last ever performance, in Belgrade, where she refuses to sing. It was a moving piece of cinema, and one which I will remember for a long time to come.
Whilst Amy’s story is a tragic one, it unfortunately isn’t a rare one, and there are thousands of people still out there fighting addiction, bulimia and depression. If you would like some more help or information, visit MIND and Talk To Frank.