Sunday, 16 October 2016
I've Just Seen: Amy (2015)
Director: Asif Kapadia
I don't listen to much modern music, and only really knew about Amy Winehouse from the jokes people made about her, the commentary about her song 'Rehab;' and the fact that she died far too young at 27. In the same way he did in Senna, Kapadia takes the audience into Amy's world, allowing her humanity and talent to shine through. He also turns the spotlight back on the audience, asking us to consider how we talk about people who are spot-lit by the media.
The most astonishing footage comes early on in the film, with Amy (aged 14) at a friend's birthday. A few people starting singing 'Happy Birthday,' only for Amy's voice to burst into their midst. Her voice, which sounded old even when she was in her twenties, comes out of this young woman fully formed, with all its graveliness and power. It is arresting, even more so when you realise she would be dead in thirteen years.
Kapadia's documentaries are really portraits of his subjects. The footage is largely of Amy from various stages of her life. We get to know her face, her emotions, and her songs intimately. We also hear the voices of those who knew her, from her childhood friends, producers, managers, and even her father, who has since denounced the film. Their words are presented to us, allowing us to form judgments about what they thought about Amy's health and talent.
This type of documentary only works if you have hours of footage of the person, and sadly, there is of Amy, much of it intrusive spectating from the paparazzi. The film argues that the intensity of the spotlight was not something she asked for, and rather than help, people just watched as someone's life spiralled out of control. It is painful and sad to watch, particularly when you see how talented a singer-songwriter she was; something barely mentioned in the lurid tales and jokes made about her.
I was just as moved by this as I was by Senna, and am looking forward to future Asif Kapadia projects, knowing he will uncover the humanity of his subject.