During much of the second half of Asif Kapadia‘s documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse, the paparazzi are shown hounding the British singer relentlessly whenever she steps out in public, and with every flash I felt a deeper loathing toward them. The irony is that some of the footage likely came from what they captured, particularly her very public downward spiral.
Amy Winehouse didn’t want or like fame. It was something she struggled with from the time she promoted her first album onward. During one candid interview, she admitted to receiving training on how to respond to questions but that she didn’t care about it.
Her refusal to play by the rules is something that pops up again and again, but it wasn’t because she was a rebel. Amy was simply not interested in the celebrity side of being an artist. That’s the tragedy of her life.
While her antics were highlighted by tabloids and entertainment media during her years of fame, this film brought out her true personality. She was shy, humble, vulnerable, and through it all, her heart was always with music, her family, friends and relationships – often to a fault. Through home movies and other video clips, we see her with friends, meeting with record labels, preparing for shows, and later clips of rehab.
We gradually watch her bright star fade.
There is an obvious emphasis put on Amy’s music throughout the film. With specific events from her life, her lyrics take on a much more literal meaning. They become heartbreakingly poignant in hindsight revealing her priorities as never wavering from her relationships – even when she became one of the biggest names in the world.
As the film shows clips roughly in chronological order, one of the most heartwarming yet heartbreaking moments comes when she is starstruck as Tony Bennett – one of her idols – reads her name at the Grammys. This event occurs after several years of depression and trouble with drugs and alcohol, where she seemed to snap out of it and the little girl from a decade earlier briefly came back.
Amy is bittersweet. It creates a whole new perspective of what we knew about Amy Winehouse, but it doesn’t make a martyr out of her. A lot of care is put in to ensure Amy is seen as a person and not a celebrity, because a celebrity is easier to distance ourselves from and in this film, it becomes harder to distance ourselves from her. It doesn’t even end on a high note with an exceptional high-profile performance meant to draw attention to what was lost with her passing. To do so would be to draw attention away from Amy, the person behind the celebrity, by masking who she was as a person with her celebrity. Such a decision in itself makes for a difficult finish, but you aren’t meant to walk away feeling good. At the very least you get to go home, put on her records and really feel them.