Sunday, 2 August 2015

Amy: Film Review

Amy: Film Review


Director: Asif Kapadia

Asif Kapadia's doco Senna, which played the New Zealand International Film Festival a couple of years back was an exemplary piece of film-making.

Packed with insight, stuffed with home movie material and offering an inside look into a world previously never glimpsed, Senna ended with a shocking kick to the guts.

Likewise, Amy, the brand new doco from the same director, packs a visceral punch and emotional heft that's hard to rebut or shake once the cinema lights go up.

There can't be many who weren't aware of the 2011 destruction of Amy Winehouse, a woman whose powerhouse talent and whose voice shaped a generation of lost souls - and who, sadly, was as lost among them as the worlds she sang about.

Once again, assembling early footage and home movie material with interviews spliced over, Kapadia's created a richly involving, deeply moving and ultimately, upsetting film that immortalises Winehouse's singular talent as well as her destructive demons.

Opening with early footage of Winehouse singing Happy Birthday and sucking a lollipop and ending with a heartbreaking phone call to friends, this doco takes in all the highs and lows of the fame train, complete with a very subtle yet obvious blame game at those who were responsible for her demise.

But it's to Kapadia's talent and skill that it's never presented as anything less than balanced or nuanced and never seeks to assign blame to those who shoulder it. It's at pains early on to paint a portrait of a fragile Jewish girl, whose world was shaped by demons within who professes that she won't ever be famous and chillingly, that if it were to happen, she couldn't handle it. ( A foreboding if ever there was one)

Using footage and audio interviews with the likes of Blake Fielder, her husband, her manager at the time and others who came into orbit of her star, Kapadia's created a biography of a star rather than relying on narrative techniques to simply present the facts.

That doesn't make it any the less troubling though - there are many questions about who played what role in Amy's downfall, from the fact her absentee father shows up later when she's hit the big time and denied she needed help to Blake Fielder who stoked the fire of her demons. Equally, the paparazzi can't feel happy with their portrayal with scenes of so many flashbulbs going off, it's likely to set off a strobe-induced fit.

But it's the moments that Kapadia assembles that pack the emotional wallop that he unleashed to such devastating effect in Senna. It's utterly heartbreaking that when she wins Grammy's biggest award her words are "This is so boring without drugs", as her gaunt and skeletal frame leans out of the screen. To be frank though, Kapadia and his editing team doesn't need to do much but assemble the material - from songs that spring to life on screen with text, but drip with tragic autobiographical detail to fleeting glances, this is a story that tells itself and one that's all too familiar, even though the lack of judgement from the director means you inevitably know who's to blame.

Amy is a truly stunning film, a tough and explicit record of a life gone too quickly and of a star's Icarus-style ascent, but thanks to its sensitive telling and its wealth of material, it's a fascinating yet tragic film guaranteed to haunt you long after you've seen it - whether you're a fan or not.

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