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"A lot of people said this film would never get made"

“A lot of people said ‘Why do you want to make a film about a junkie?’” said the director, Asif Kapadia. “That’s exactly why I needed to make the film.”

Updated 5 July

Source: MOVIECLIPS Trailers/YouTube

AMY, THE ACCLAIMED new film documenting the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, went on release in Irish cinemas this weekend.

Interviewing over 80 friends and family of the singer, the director, Asif Kapadia, who was also behind the award-winning documentary about the Formula One driver, Senna, said he hoped the film would shatter the image of a hopeless junkie that has dogged the singer since her death.

It seemed her addictions overshadowed her talent in the end, but the documentary depicts the life behind the singer songwriter who blew the world away with her voice, and hopes to correct the record.

‘A film about a junkie?’

“A lot of people said ‘Why do you want to make a film about a junkie?’” Asif Kapadia said.

“That’s exactly why I needed to make the film, because — what a horrible thing to say about a kid. This person was being dismissed and there was so much more going on.”

Source: Altitude Film/YouTube


Amy uses intimate home-video footage to chart the British jazz sensation from her teenage years to her tragic death from alcohol poisoning in 2011 at age 27.

Kapadia said a combination of factors triggered her decline into drink, drugs and bulimia.

“It’s a lot of issues that started very young: fame, money, the industry, London. All these things coming together in a tiny little girl who doesn’t eat food.”
“Most of the people had never given an interview,” he said. “They were nervous, upset, some were guilty, some were angry.”
“A lot of them had made a pact to never speak because they were so shocked by what had happened, and that no one had stopped it.But one by one they trusted us and then they couldn’t stop. It was like therapy for them.”

amy Teenage Amy Winehouse performing with guitar. Source: MOVIECLIPS Trailers

Undeniable talent and love of music 

The opening shot of the film is of a young teenage Amy Winehouse with her friends.

Like any other girl, she is messing around, and then she opens her mouth to sing Happy Birthday to her friend.

Instantly, it becomes clear to the viewer just why Winehouse rose to fame the way she did.

Source: Altitude Film/YouTube

The film follows Winehouse as she tours the small clubs, goes on promotional tours, to making the huge stadium concerts and television appearances.

amy 4 Source: MOVIECLIPS Trailers

It shows how people fell in love with the singer, but also how the media and her management pulled her in different directions, often when she was clearly not well enough to be on the stage.

Clips of her disastrous interviews where she is spaced out and car-crash concert performances, particularly the one in Serbia, make for uncomfortable viewing, when you begin to see the story behind the the girl.

One person’s struggle with addiction 

Not only does the documentary follow a young woman’s journey through the crazy world of fame, it’s also an interesting and educational insight into one persons struggle with addiction – from beginning to end.

Source: tonybennettVEVO/YouTube

Criticism from family 

The release of the documentary in the run-up to Cannes was mired in controversy, with her father Mitch Winehouse complaining that it depicts him as “money-grabbing” and “attention-seeking”. 

Footage of when Amy spent six months in St Lucia in a bid to break away from London, heroin and crack cocaine, shows Mitch with her with a Channel 4 film crew.

He was making his own documentary, which seemed jarring in the light that previous to this his daughter was in no fit state to be in the public eye.

“Why have you done this to me?” she asks, asking again why he is trying to make a “mug” out of her.

Kapadia said everything in the film had been triple-checked and that it was an honest interpretation from around 100 interviews with family and friends.

“We show what was going on in her life,” he said.

But her love for her father is also evident in the documentary, particularly when she finds out that she has won her first Grammy Award for best album, when she looks to her dad in disbelief as he rushes to the stage to embrace her.

amy 2 Amy Winehouse finding out she has won the Grammy Award for Best Album. Source: MOVIECLIPS Trailers

This touching moment, which brings a tear to the eye when you see the context of her struggles and her talent finally being recognised on a world stage, is tinged with sadness.

Just when the viewer is elated to see someone who has been so down and out do good, we learn she took one of her best friends off stage to tell her:

“This is so boring without drugs.”

The film shows a young woman who is madly and passionately involved in her music. She speaks to camera about her problems with depression at an early age.

Open and transparent, Winehouse tells an interviewer that many people suffer from depression, they just don’t have an outlet like she did to pick up a guitar and deal with it.

Her career took off after the release of Back to Black, with the film showing just how unprepared one can be for that level of overnight success.

amy 3 Amy hugs her mother on stage. Clip footage with documentary review overlaid. Source: MOVIECLIPS Trailers

Asked early on in her career if she thought she might become famous, she said:

“I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous,” she said. “I don’t think I could handle it. I would probably go mad. I would go mad.”

Shark bait is what comes to mind during the depiction of the media frenzy surrounding Winehouse during her times of her real and deep addiction.

amy 5 Amy Winehouse with Blake Fielder-Civil. Source: MOVIECLIPS Trailers

It’s a reminder of how tabloids splash vulnerable people struggling with addiction across the front pages, with her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who introduced her to hard drugs, stating it was disgusting to see.

Hounded by paparazzi 

The director said Winehouse had to work through her demons in the full glare of the tabloid press, and Amy serves as a savage indictment of the paparazzi who hounded her.

“My favourite stuff is her filming herself and being so comfortable in front of the lens,” said Kapadia.

“The journey from there to the loneliness of her looking into the paparazzi lens and being so afraid — it was a very short space of time.”

The documentary also shows how it can all turn sour. From performing on the likes of the Jay Leno Show, to being the butt of his jokes about her drug use.

A few of her last words were to her bodyguard while she was looking at footage of herself singing. “Damn, I can sing,” she said. “I know you can,” he replied.

“If I could give it all up to be able to walk down that street, I would,” she said.

“A lot of people said this will never get made — they won’t let you,” Kapadia said.

“In the end, we decided we have to do it for her, and all the people we had met — who are not famous, who are not loud, who don’t speak publicly. We had to show what we had found.”

Additional reporting AFP

- First published 14 June 2015

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