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Directed by Asif Kapadia

UK, 2015

HOME, 5 July 2015


As with the earlier Senna, Asif Kapadia’s film about Amy Winehouse’s too-short life provides no overarching narrative.

We are simply shown footage of Amy Winehouse together with commentary from those who knew her. The footage is arranged chronologically (more or less) and that gives the film whatever structure it has. Of course, we most of us know how it will all end.

Her voice was there from the start, it seems, for the earliest strand of film has her singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at a friend’s party. She also wrote poems, what could be song lyrics, read music and played the guitar. (How? Where’d this all come from? Curiously, the film doesn’t tell us.) And that look of hers: the beehive hair-do, the big lashes; a mask that made her face invisible to others; no one saw her. It was there at the start, all worked out. She entered the world, leastways the public world, strange and fully formed. That was what she had going for her and it was then a question of whether her talent and artistry could enable her to overcome the problems in her personal life.

She was a child of divorced parents, suffering from an eating disorder that was apparently never treated (we learn of it casually half way through the film). She seemed to be always seeking a father figure or a mentor, a strong man to take control of her life. Or she never really took control or responsibility for her own life: that’s another way to put it. Anyway, what she found were parasites and predators, leading to further problems with drink and drugs. Everyone looked on, not least a baying media, as her life became a slow motion car wreck. Here it all looks like an ineluctable process, the momentum unstoppable, somehow inevitable. It wasn’t.

This is not as good a film as Senna: for one thing, the clips are too short. Also, while Amy Winehouse was (is) remarkable as a singer and songwriter, she was in many ways absent from her life. She is too passive a figure to be heroic. And as for the rest, the hangers-on: they are way too shallow for you to feel much sympathy. You call to mind Freud’s judgement: most people are trash.