Closed Confessional: This is how Amy Winehouse described its composition, providing the key to Asif Kapadia’s understated, unsensationalized and overwhelmingly sad film about her short and volatile life. In the absence of narration, winehouse’s lyrics tell the story, floating across the screen in a handwritten font that creates the illusion of a cohesive diary, from childhood to stardom.
This documentary begins with home video footage from 1998, in which a mischievous and vibrant young Amy poses as Marilyn Monroe on the night of her friend’s 14th birthday. ending just 13 years later with her funeral in 2011, drugs, alcohol and bulimia have taken their toll on her bird form. In between, we ecstatically listen to bone-chilling music (winehouse’s voice was extraordinary from the start), watch her put her heart and soul into writing songs that would capture the world’s attention, and despair at the chain of events that cut short a such prodigious talent.
Like Kapadia’s award-winning Senna, who similarly charted life and death in the fast lane, Amy eschews on-camera interviews for illustrated audio, the voices of interviewees accompanying a brilliantly edited kaleidoscope of images from selected archive of video cameras, mobile phones, newscasts and television programs. Along with her close friends Lauren Gilbert and Juliette Ashby, Winehouse’s first manager, Nick Shymansky, provides material that captures the artist at her best, before the pressure of fame hits her. a young body captivating audiences at jazz festivals and record company offices alike.
Things change when she moves to camden, north london, in 2005, where winehouse meets her future husband, blake fielder-civil, who introduces her to heroin and teaches her that “life is short”. Soon, the pair have become a Sid and Nancy swap, and her desire to stay in tune with her prodigious drug use proves catastrophic.
the rest is an ongoing battle between angels and demons, bouts of chaotic addiction interspersed with bouts of lucid lucidity, punctuated by captivating performances of self-drying tears turning black—her personal and professional lives toxicly intertwined. . Depressingly, as with Kurt Cobain, Winehouse’s narrative of self-destruction became a perverse part of his validation.
A fleetingly optimistic interlude from the last part of Kapadia’s increasingly harrowing film shows a clean and clearly overwhelmed cellar that won the grammy for Record of the Year in 2008, a tearful celebration that seems to validate the anguish of its too public existence. Calling Ashby onstage, the pair share a private moment. at which point winehouse reportedly declares “this is so boring without drugs…”
Inevitably, Kapadia has opened up old wounds, with Mitch Winehouse protesting the editing of his words about Amy not needing rehab, and calling the filmmakers “a disgrace” who are “trying to portray me in the worst light possible. “. . certainly there are times when her judgment seems faulty; He arrives in St. Lucia with a camera crew when post-rehab Amy seems to crave nothing more than a hug. Elsewhere, questions are being raised as to why manager Raye Cosbert allowed a clearly fragile winery to perform in Belgrade in 2011, where the bedraggled and apparently intoxicated star was booed by a crowd of thousands, and then millions, thanks to the miracle of the internet. .
It is this depiction of a rubberneck feeding frenzy that is perhaps the most alarming element of this film. The first images shot by Shymansky on a miniDV show Winehouse as an odd mixture of camera-shy and camera-ready, embarrassed by the intrusion, but also eager to record her own adventures, to bring out her inner experiences. however, as the documentary progresses, we move from personal footage to televised performance and the glare of global surveillance. montages of paparazzi crowds create a hellish portrait of life lived through a dirty lens, although Kapadia himself is not above using footage clearly obtained while the singer was in a state of anguish; I found myself looking away more than once.
Meanwhile, clips of frankie boyle, jay leno, and even the cool graham norton joking about winehouse’s deterioration serve as a stark reminder that going crazy in public makes one the equivalent of today’s manic recluse nowadays: fair game for ridicule by the chat classes.
In the midst of all this chaos, the recording of a duet with tony bennett provides a rare moment of respite. Winehouse is nervous, but Bennett is fatherly, bringing out the best in the still young singer. in her reassuring and admiring company, she rises to the occasion, her uncertainty turning to pride. and for a moment we glimpse how things might have been: raw talent nurtured by an experienced hand in the whiny harmony of body and soul.