"Amy," a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of the late British singer Amy Winehouse, should put filmmaker Asif Kapadia on speed dial for anyone looking to produce an archive-heavy documentary about an iconic figure. The "Senna" director digs deep into the popular myth surrounding Winehouse -- that she’s another singer who lost control of her own life when fame and drugs overtook her -- and finds a much deeper story.
Who can ever forget the footage of the singer drunk on stage and refusing to perform in Belgrade on what turned out to be her last public appearance on a stage? Winehouse’s most famous song "Rehab" is all about not seeking treatment for addiction. As such, while it’s easy to empathize with her story, her struggles have been largely simplified by their reflection in popular culture. Two hours in the company of Kapadia’s heartbreaking documentary change all that.
Along with Winehouse's parents, the principle supporting figures of the story are her first manager Nick Shymansky, her childhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, as well as her wayward husband Blake Fielder-Civil, whom she married in 2007 and divorced in 2009. But the most surprisingly introspective interviewee is Yasiin Bey, the hip-hop artist formerly known as Mos Def, who was a friend of the British singer after they met at the Urban World festival in 2004.
The first section of the film highlighting Winehouse’s rise shows her getting a record deal with Island, buying her first flat with the proceeds of her first album "Frank" and giving an vivacious interview on Jonathan Ross’s popular talk show. Everything else is a downward spiral. Former Winehouse colleagues suggest that it was when she bought a house in Camden that her condition started to change for the worse. It's there that she's seen hanging out with an entourage of local singers, such as Kate Moss’s notorious ex-boyfriend and Libertines frontman Pete Doherty as well as Blake Fielder-Civil, with whom she cheated on her then boyfriend.
Drugs became a major part of her life. Winehouse was so off the rails that her friends and manager took her out of London to encourage her to go into rehab in November 2005. The film shows how the singer hung on her father Mitch's every word while he remained visibly ignorant to her plight. She told her friends, "I'll go if my father says I have to," and when daddy says "no, no, no," she refuses to go. With unsettling footage from the recording of her hit sophomore album "Back to Black," it's suggested that if Winehouse had gone to rehab after wrapping the album, she may have saved herself. The movie lingers in these recurring "what if" scenarios while ominously foreshadowing the singer's eventual death.
Kapadia leaves it up to the audience to determine whether Winehouse's situation could truly have gone another way. Whether he has or hasn’t captured the true essence of the singer may require further debate, but what’s beyond question is that "Amy" is an extraordinary, powerful work.
"Amy" opens it in New York and Los Angeles on July 3, and nationwide July 10, 2015.READ MORE: Watch: Amy Winehouse is Fearful of Fame in First Trailer for 'Amy'