She fell from grace as quickly as she rose to fame: the tragic story of Amy Winehouse

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Written and directed by Asif Kapadia. Featuring archive footage of Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Tony Bennett, Pete Doherty, and others.

I was no fan of Amy Winehouse during her rise to fame, fall from grace, and tragic death at the age of 27, which all took place over about an 8-year span from 2003 to 2011. 

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In fact, I didn’t know all that much about her, outside of her drug and alcohol issues and status as a British tabloid queen, and her chart-topping hits like Back in Black, Rehab, and Tears Dry on Their Own.

Asif Kapadia’s new documentary Amy, however, has converted me.

The film has been compiled using a wealth of pre-existing material, from home video recordings of pre-fame teenage Winehouse and her friends to behind-the-scenes footage from inside recording studios, to interviews with and reports on Amy from the media, most of which were new to me. 

They paint a portrait of an incredibly charismatic young girl, talented yet humble, with a soulful intelligence that betrays her ordinary beginnings. You can tell in early scenes, even at the age of 14, that she’s got what it takes. 

Winehouse is seen in early footage with a group of young friends, including Juliette Ashby, singing with friends and setting out on a journey to record an album. Ashby and others provide some commentary about Amy’s early days and lightning-fast rise to stardom following the release of her debut album, Frank, in 2003. 

Things weren’t all rosy, however – Amy had a penchant for drugs and alcohol, and we all know where that would eventually lead. Money, fame, and some of the relationships Winehouse made along the way likely accelerated her fate. 

Amy is comprised almost entirely of pre-existing footage – along with the (usually brief) bursts of commentary from those close to her to provide some context – and as such, provides little in the way of commentary itself; i.e., the film tends not to point fingers or lay blame (even at the self-destructive Winehouse herself), but merely documents the singers’ downward spiral. 

Still, there were a couple of people in Winehouse’s life that may have not helped her along the way. 

One of the film’s most heartbreaking moments is when a friend recounts an intervention intended to get Amy to check herself into a rehabilitation clinic. But Amy called her father, Mitch Winehouse, who advised her not to go. She proudly recounts this moment in a TV interview as the basis for the song Rehab

Then there’s Blake Fielder, the love of Amy’s life and the subject of many of her songs, who unfortunately shared the singer’s inhibitions towards drugs and booze and general self-destructive behavior. Amy clearly loved him, though, and probably saw lot of herself in him. Some of those interviewed have less-than-kind words to say about Blake; clearly, he wasn’t the best of influences. 

Director Kapadia previously made the successful documentary Senna, which charted the life of famed Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. 

Amy is less conventional portrait of its subject, not limited by its use of only pre-existing footage but greatly enhanced by it: masterfully edited together from years of material, both public and private, the film is an invaluable document of an incredible musical talent. 

The film ends on a note of profound sadness, offering no answers or commentary, but it’s almost a relief when the inevitable occurs. From Hank Williams to Janis Joplin to Kurt Cobain, the story of the self-destructive young artist is nothing new for the music industry. 

But Amy is a disarmingly revealing inside look at how it all went down behind the tabloid headlines.

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