Amy, dir. Asif Kapadia, st. Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Blake Fielder-Civil
The biggest shock in Asif Kapadia's initially Winehouse family-blessed documentary is the guilt at the feeling of one's own complicity in the whole tragic affair. Before her untimely death in 2011 at the tender age of 27, I, along with 1.85m others, purchased Amy's sophomore album Back To Black. So ubiquitous was the cover art - on bus shelters, magazine adverts, and fly-posts - the image of a rather forlorn girl on a stool became as meaningless to me as a fast-food logo, a shorthand placeholder icon for the music I loved within the disc. After coming out of the Amy, I questioned what other art I consumed rather than took the time to get to know. Now I know that's not my fault per se, it is after all, how we are marketed to. But it does bring into focus the disturbing proposition that if it was in some small part the unrelenting and intrusive fame that undid Amy Winehouse, surely we have a part to play.
Like Senna in 2010, Kapadia utilises stock footage - some familiar, some unseen and private - and underpins it with audio cut together from a myriad of sources, both then and now. We have Amy's friends, colleagues, and family talking retrospectively about her, and in many cases, the archive footage's own soundtrack is used, sometimes with superimposed lyrics that are used to punctuate the narrative. It's a bold decision, and certainly from an artistic perspective, the way the words unfurl in different locations around the frame can often look inelegant, but investigating the backstory of some of Amy's most popular songs and then watching the culmination of events through her poetry is immensely personal.
As for the allegations made against the filmmakers by Mitch, Amy's father and later, manager, who can say. Filmmakers, particularly documentarians, are in the tricksy position of needing to be trusted to be free of agenda in their subject material. Yet isn't that the essential role of a filmmaker? Not to skew or distort or fictionalise, but to tell the story. And at least here, there's more embedded drama than could ever have been written. Certainly, Kapadia doesn't illustrate Mitch as the egotist or glory-hunter as some have accused him of being, but hindsight not withstanding, there were undoubtedly some glaring, calamitous decisions being made on Amy's behalf. However, Kapadia's film doesn't seek to sermonise, but it does attempt to illustrate how causality works. Like diverting an asteroid millions of miles away from its path towards us, little nudges and impressions may produce a cumulative effect whereby disaster is averted. The problem comes in recognising an extinction-level event is on the horizon in time to act. Amy might just be the most heartbreaking time-travel movie ever. With pin-sharp clarity and distressing immediacy, Kapadia doesn't provide us with an opportunity to save her, but it might give us the tools with which to save many like her.