Radio silence for a while due to the commencement of a Netflix subscription- and somehow writing about films watched on the telly didn’t feel quite right. But I have made it to the cinema to see the Amy Winehouse documentary by Asif Kapadia. This actually wasn’t a very cinematic film, and would have been fine to view on the small screen too, but it’s a subject I’m interested in, so didn’t want to wait for it to appear on BBC4.
Amy is a quite straight-forward biographical film; moving quickly through Amy’s childhood, early career, super-stardom, crumbling personal life, and premature death, with a mix of archive footage and voice-over interviews. This documentary offered some small glimpses into the horror of living a life dominated by the paparazzi and tabloid press, and more substantial reminders of how talented Amy Winehouse actually was as both a song writer and performer. It also did an excellent job of reminding us all of what a sweet and funny person she obviously was, rather than some sort of walking, freak-show shambles. A real person emerged, who was quite clearly let down by her own choices of partners, friends, management, and father (less choice involved here).
But good though it was, I don’t think this documentary really said anything new about Amy. Perhaps my view is skewed by being an early fan. I loved her from hearing Put It in the Box, and later the album Frank. The one time I saw her live (pre-Back to Black), she was amusingly random, surprisingly small, a crap guitarist, and an amazing vocalist. But I always knew she was a real person. This film was probably more insightful for the non-fan, and I suspect this is why I found Kapadia’s previous film, Senna, more satisfying, as I learnt about someone I knew virtually nothing of. This time round I knew a lot more about the subject, and of course the circumstances of their death.
I also found the unexpected appearance of Graham Norton as a symbol of all the media mocking that Amy Winehouse endured, somewhat odd. Of course she was a topic of conversation, providing plenty of Daily Mail side-bar fodder. And of course it should have been obvious that she was not a well person, in need of help rather than being unable to leave her home without facing scrum of photographers. But when has this ever protected anyone from the press, or comment from comedians? That’s just not the world we live in. I’m not a reader of celebrity magazines, but is anyone who has smiled at a joke about Amy’s appearance or raised an eyebrow at her appearing on stage obviously drunk, complicit in her death? I’m not sure. Still this was a good, if lengthy, opportunity to hear her perform some fantastic songs and be reminded of how amazing she could be; and that’s certainly no bad thing.