The paradox of celebrities in the modern age is that even as they reveal more and more of themselves on Twitter, Instagram and the like, they can still be as unknowable as ever. This is readily apparent when you’re watching Amy, the new documentary showing the rise and fall of singer Amy Winehouse.
Utilizing home movies, old interviews, concert footage and new interviews with Winehouse’s friends and family, filmmaker Asif Kapadia attempts to dissect exactly what made Winehouse tick. Some of the old videos are amazing to watch, as they capture small, intimate moments far from the stage or recording studio, ones that wouldn’t normally be filmed but are now somehow preserved for all to see.
In fact, it’s those smaller moments that make the film as powerful as it is, as they show Winehouse as a shy, often confused young woman who finds fame thrust upon her instead of actively seeking it out. When she does hit it big with 2006’s Back to Black, it’s immediately obvious that she has no idea how to handle the situation, and worse, no consistent presence to save her from her own demons.
But Kapadia does a great job showing that even though Winehouse had people like her junkie soon-to-be husband Blake and her attention-seeking father in her life, she also had a manager, producers and old friends she could have turned to if she had so chosen. Her decision not to do so in her greatest times of need illustrates what a powerful thing addiction can be.
Of course, Winehouse’s addictions and early death are especially tragic because of the talent that she possessed. Nearly everyone with whom she worked, including the legendary Tony Bennett, notes that her voice and songwriting ability made her a rare breed, someone whose career could have lasted long beyond many of her contemporaries.
It’s alternately exhilarating and depressing watching Winehouse reach the heights of the music industry knowing the downfall that awaits her. But there’s really no other way to experience Amy, an essential music documentary that cuts as close as seemingly possible in showing what being a celebrity truly means.