Documentary of the late singer’s life relies on archival footage, much of it taken from home movies and the like. The family (read, her father) isn’t happy about the way these films are used, and indeed, her father comes across poorly.
But the use of this footage, along with you-are-there examples of the crush of the paparazzi as experienced from the inside, while illuminating, perhaps unintentionally places Kapadia with those paparazzi. Winehouse is gone now, so I suppose you could say that she can no longer be hurt. But Amy is in many respects a post-mortem extension of the ways Winehouse was used by the media when she was alive. We learn about her life by peeking into her most private moments. It’s a revealing film, but it also left me feeling a bit dirty, not because of Winehouse, but because as I watched the movie I became complicit with things that made her life difficult.
One of the most crucial criticisms of father Mitch Winehouse comes when he turns up when Amy has found a place to escape the daily pressures (she also finds a place to drink constantly). Mitch is filming a television series, and he arrives with cameras, precisely the thing Amy is trying to avoid. There is something opportunistic about Mitch’s intrusions on his daughter ... he barely seems better than the paparazzi. But Kapadia has no qualms about using this footage in his own documentary. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the only reason Kapadia didn’t join the paparazzi was because Winehouse was dead when he made his documentary. Instead, he uses paparazzi footage to support his movie.
Having said that, Amy is an eye-opener. Her vocals are more than jazz-inflected ... oftentimes, they are jazz. Her confessional lyrics, printed on the screen as the songs are presented, match well with the narrative the film offers of Winehouse’s life. That narrative shows that Winehouse had problems before fame magnified everything. She was extremely talented, which is why we know who she is and why she gets an Oscar-nominated documentary about her life. Without that great voice, her story is still tragic, but it’s sadly like too many other stories.
Tony Bennett gets the best line. An artist who had his own personal traumas, some drug-related, Bennett came out on the other side, and still has an audience as he approaches 90. He recognized Winehouse’s excellence, and the scenes of the two recording the Grammy-winning “Body and Soul” are lovely, as he encourages her and brings a fine performance out of her. At the movie’s end, he remarks, “Life teaches you really how to live it, if you could live long enough.”