Pass The Popcorn: Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse Doc is Not For The Faint Of Heart [Review]
When director Asif Kapadia was tasked with such a massive undertaking in presenting the legacy of Amy Winehouse in the feverishly-anticipated doc, Amy, it was safe to say that expectations were high, excitement over the film somehow even higher. The first documentary treatment of a musician’s career, dead or alive, is one charged with a daunting responsibility; to uphold a legacy and provide a proper introduction to work and influences a fledgling listener might not come across upon first ear, without focusing too heavily on an artist’s shortcomings, as they’re typically already quite apparent by the time the film’s released. And if anything has been made clear after my initial viewing, it’s that it just may have been too soon for this sort of treatment.
Only four years removed from the modern soul giant’s tragic passing, it’s difficult, at best, to truly contextualize that loss, her success and influence in the scheme of the current musical landscape, which has certainly borrowed a few notes from her woozy howl. And so Kapadia’s effort, relying heavily on footage most have seen on Youtube (with a few exceptions) never really had the opportunity to fly the way Winehouse’s voice did, especially when its vantage is almost entirely focused on a criminally well-publicized life of substance abuse that poured out all over her songwriting like the very red wine she sipped. There are certainly nods to her musicianship from Okayplayer’s own (Questlove, Yasiin Bey) and perennial music coach Tony Bennett amongst few others. But too often the narrative veers towards victimized-superstar-on-the-up, leaving you with the impression that virtually every person that surrounded her did more to enable her demons than they did to summon her genius–and in especially glaring omission for serious music heads, the doc barely even touches on her artistic process. All of that could very well be the case, but it makes it too easy to pity her career instead of celebrating its brilliance.
This is not to say that the film doesn’t have its triumphs. It is virtually impossible to get through without shedding a tear (or twelve) and the opportunity to relive her Grammy win is truly unique and particularly overwhelming. But the type of sensationalization encountered in Amy, with all of its shots of her red-eyed drug use and almost cartoonish disdain for the media is, in the opinion of this reviewer, best left for the tabloids–and simply doesn’t have a place in the very first telling of her tale. Make no mistake, Amy is as moving, disturbing and emotionally draining as anything you will see this year, but if you loved Amy Winehouse for her artistry and contribution to the greater soul music canon, it’s a hard film to enjoy.