Asif Kapadia’s film about Amy Winehouse confirms his position as an outstanding documentarian.


Success in cinema can be measured either in critical or commercial terms, but in the case of Amy both approaches tell the same story. As I write Amy has just won an award as Best Documentary from the London Critics’ Circle and has been nominated in that category for an Oscar while commercially it has been confirmed that at the U.K. box office it has become the second most successful documentary ever released (only Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s film of 2004 got better returns).



Those who admired Amy Winehouse who composed her own songs hardly need to be recommended to see this film made by Asif Kapadia with obvious affection for the troubled singer who died in 2011 at the tragically early age of 27. But it does need to be stressed that a love for her music is not a necessary requirement for appreciating this telling portrait of an individual that can be seen as a warning tale about the pressures of fame as now exacerbated by the press interest in celebrities. Indeed, following her story as presented by Kapadia in chronological order, one cannot help but be reminded of the comparable strains suffered by Judy Garland. Personally I don’t buy the suggestion that at heart Amy was in the mould of the great jazz singers, but Kapadia does bring out the extent to which the lyrics she wrote drew on her own life by putting the words on screen.
Although Kapadia’s brilliant debut, The Warrior (2001), was not a documentary, he has made a special mark in this sphere developing a new approach to biographical screen portraits, first in Senna (2010) and now in Amy. It is not an exaggeration to say that he has redefined our concept of what a credit as director can mean. Traditionally it is the person who controls the shoot but in Kapadia’s documentaries the amount of new material shot is minimal. Conseqeuently we recognise that what he does and what validly justifies the designation of ‘director’ is something different. In both Amy and Senna he selects from a vast amount of existing footage and consequently much of the director’s work comes closer to what is thought of as an editor’s job. But Kapadia’s method excludes talking heads and, since those commenting on Amy are heard in voice over, direction also involves placing their observations appropriately to fit with the images. Yet a third aspect plays a part in the fusion created by Kapadia this time around and that is the blending of the film’s music score (by Antonio Pinto who made the same contribution to Senna) with the songs from Amy heard in their existing forms. Arguably, Amy is a mite overlong at 128 minutes, but its triumphs have been well earned. Furthermore, the pictures of Amy Winehouse when shown on the cinema screen confirm that the camera loves her and that she was born to be seen in this context. This film, admiring but not uncritical, is the best possible memorial that she could have asked for.




Featuring  the voices of Mitch Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Yasiin Bey, Salaam Remi, Chip Somers, Blake Fielder-Civil and with footage of Amy Winehouse.


Dir Asif Kapadia, Pro James Gay-Rees, Ph Ernesto Hermann, Rafael Bettega, Jake Clennell and Carlos De Varona, Ed Chris King, Music Antonio Pinto.

Globe Productions/On The Corner/Film4-Altitude.
128 mins. UK. 2015. Rel: 3 July 2015. Cert. 15.