Even for those who read the news on the day she passed and took an almost flippant, morbidly expectant take on the matter, will find themselves immersed in this tale, and emotionally distraught come the end of play. Kapadia has presented this feature in a similar way to his last, without to-camera, talking head interviews, illustrating the narrative solely through stock footage, be it of the singer on tour, home videos, or appearances on chat shows. There is, however, narration over the top of the images, from close friends and family, enriching what we see, as Chris King’s aptitude for exquisite editing is shown off in how they compliment one another, seamlessly crafted together.
The feature is also – and essentially – chronological, taking us on this life journey, watching this young, chubby cheeked Jewish girl from North London turn into the gaunt rock and roll star which we’d see splashed over the front covers of the papers, leaving night clubs with blood-stained clothes, and her eyes rolled back into her head. We witness the demise, the colour in her cheeks disappears, the glint in her eyes, we watch on as the drugs take over and destroy her life, while a foreboding feeling remains prevalent, making for an excruciating watch at times. But this title is not solely about her drug abuse. Her music is essential to this, and is the only focus of the opening half to this piece. You almost forget amidst the media frenzy that took place what a remarkably gifted musician she was, and it’s something Kapadia is sure to celebrate in this title. He never loses sight of the human being either, and in spite of the fame, the fortune and the fucked-up misdemeanours, the generous, affable and outspoken young woman is always the focus – and we never forget that.
The personal connection between the viewer and Winehouse is aided by a technique whereby her lyrics, during performances we see, appear on screen, helping us to understand her music, also working as a narrative device as it drives the story forwards, such was the personal, anecdotal side to her songwriting. Kapadia also presents the lyrics in handwriting too, adding a personal, intimate touch. You get so immersed in this tale too that you want to intervene, to prevent fate from taking its wicked course, and mostly to confront the paparazzi who be perceived as the true antagonist of this piece. But Kapadia doesn’t point the finger, he does what any great documentarian should, and remain entirely impartial, never painting anyone out to be the sole cause of Winehouse’s demise, and instead presenting us with all the facts, and letting us make our own minds up. But he shows the transition into a life of squalor to be so organic – it’s not just one moment in particular, it just happened to her, as it happens to others.
The saddest thing of all, is that the one person you most want to sit down and watching this quite remarkable slice of documentary cinema, is Amy Winehouse herself, to see how much she meant to others, to know just how talented an artist she was, and what the drugs did to her personality and well-being. By the close of play you feel like you knew her yourself, similarly to Senna when you witness the final events and find yourself moved in a way you hadn’t expected, thanks to the connection that this director has managed to bridge.
Let’s just hope his next documentary is about somebody still alive, because I’m not sure if I can sit through another of these. It took two years to get over Senna, and now that entire process has begun all over again. Plus, contrary to Amy’s very own words, it turns out tears don’t quite dry on their own – so take tissues.