Saturday, 11 July 2015

Amy (15)

It's a funny feeling, going in to a film when you already know the ending.

Yet, just like with Senna, director Asif Kapadia constructs an enthralling narrative, building the tension as the inevitable conclusion looms.

It helps, of course, if you can't remember the actual all-important date. And if you can't, don't go looking it up before you go.

Compiled through home-filmed footage, YouTube clips, news bulletins and other documentaries, Amy delivers a raw and brutally honest portrayal of a woman never built to be the huge star she became.

Starting in 2001, we are guided through her early career, the highs, lows and creative inspiration as Amy builds towards her debut album.

What becomes immediately apparent is that this is someone with good friends, who care for her as much as she cares for them.

What also shines through is her talent.

Sure, we've all got the albums, we've all heard the singles, we all know she could sing - but when, in the opening minutes, you see her sing Happy Birthday to her friend, you are mesmerised.

This isn't a Britney wannabe. This is someone with a gift.

As the story unfolds, Kapadia does an excellent job in apportioning blame.

Father Mitch - never a stranger to the media spotlight - has already spoken out about how he is portrayed in this film, and he's right.

He doesn't come out of it well.

But it's not anything to do with the editing or a pre-determined narrative.

It's from the horses mouth.

Well, actually several horses.

By using interviews with everyone involved at the various stages of Amy's life and career, points when people should have intervened are flagged up and allowed to just sit with the audience.

You are left to make your own mind up.

But it's fair to say sympathy for a man who had the power to send her to rehab and didn't is hard to find.

But, much as I'm sure he'd like it to be, this isn't a film about Mitch.

No, it's a touching, engaging and emotive story of a woman who just wanted to sing, but became too famous for her own good.

Insights from doctors and rehab practitioners allow you to judge what went wrong, with whom and when, but again Kapadia is not directing the audience.

Although how anyone could walk away thinking well of her manager is beyond me.

No, Kapadia is just telling the story in a warm, sensitive way.

And the thing he captures perfectly is the vulnerability and beauty the tabloid tales chose to ignore.

As the collage of clips is assembled, you fall for the future jazz star. You're enthralled by her.

Actually putting her lyrics on screen as she sings goes a long way to enforcing this as well.

And when it all starts to crumble, you just want to reach out and help, or shout at someone else to do something.

In fact, you're so wrapped up in the tale, that the final chapter has huge emotional weight.

You are almost shocked, but you are also left feeling angry that those best placed to save her let her down.

This is not a conventional documentary by any stretch, but then Amy Winehouse was never a conventional artist.

But by combining such different footage - and adding a certain pop video sensibility to some of the proceedings - Kapadia has proven himself to be a master of the genre.

There will be those who don't think they need to see Amy because the tabloids told them everything, but that misses both the point of this film and the chance to see a true star in action.

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