Something of a “found footage” documentary, director Asif Kapadia’s Amy effectively erases the need for an Amy Winehouse biopic. So much actual footage of the late singer-songwriter exists, Kapadia and his team were able to piece the narrative together without resorting to typical ‘talking head’ interviews or any other stock techniques of the hackneyed “rockumentary” or Behind the Music variety. Let’s take it at face value (because some of Winehouse’s surviving family, notably her father Mitchell Winehouse, have taken issue with aspects of the film): Amy is a devastating viewing experience. If you already loved Winehouse’s music, you’re likely already sold. But perhaps more interestingly, the film plays extremely well to those less well-versed in her story (I speak from experience, having previously only known the Winehouse image as projected by the mainstream media during the last few years of her life).
Back to that “found footage” aspect—you’d be forgiven for making the assumption, after viewing Amy, that nearly every moment of her life was either video-recorded or photographed. That’s how intimate the film feels, since Winehouse and her friends and associates captured inordinate amounts of her life on recorded media. The film’s knockout opening “scene” is a home movie shot in 1998 of Winehouse and a group of friends singing “Happy Birthday” to Juliette Ashby (a life-long friend of Winehouse’s, who also became a singer-songwriter). The moment Winehouse, all of 14 years old, breaks out for a vocal solo is the kind of thing many Hollywood biopics attempt to replicate. But this is the real thing. And it’s spine-tingling. This girl was born to sing and the film demonstrates how much artistry was lost as a result of her death.
The very best aspect of Amy, which inevitably takes a very depressing, tragic turn as it charts the singer’s rapid decline due to addiction and eating disorders (and untimely death in 2011 at age 27) is the amount of performance footage we see and hear of Winehouse. There’s a feast of concert and studio footage that shows off Winehouse’s incredible vocal technique. Even late in her short life, her gifts did not fail her (though we do see some sad examples of how drug addiction hampered her ability to perform reliably). A highlight: Winehouse in the studio with one of her all-time idols, Tony Bennett, recording a duet. Though she was an established major star at this point, she’s starstruck by Bennett’s presence and prematurely ends a take of their song, insisting “I don’t want to waste your time.” Her humility feels 100 percent real. Bennett’s thoughts about Winehouse, heard in voiceover, convey his genuine respect for her talent as a jazz vocalist.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presentation of Amy is, by sheer necessity stemming from the wide variety of consumer-grade cameras that captured much of its footage, a mixed bag. But the stuff that was professionally shot certainly looks great. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is a treat for any fan of Winehouse’s music. There’s also a ton of great extras here, including audio commentary by director Asif Kapadia, editor Chris King, and producer James Gay-Rees. There’s a lengthy selection of additional interviews (53 minutes) and deleted scenes (33 minutes), plus a handful of short “Unseen Performances.” Don’t bother with “The Making of Amy,” which is a two-minute promotional piece that doesn’t warrant inclusion.
If you’re already a fan, it should go without saying that Amy is required viewing. If you’re not, give the film a chance and see if you don’t become a fan in the process. At the very least, this sensitive documentary should leave just about any viewer with a newfound respect for Amy Winehouse.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B014VVNYUG,B0160I552I]