Daily | Cannes 2015 | Asif Kapadia’s AMY

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy tells the sad and, it would appear, inevitably tragic story of the late jazz singer Amy Winehouse framed entirely through archive footage,” begins Screen‘s Fionnuala Halligan. “Scores of interviews add a voiceover narration which cumulatively rescues Winehouse from her sorry fate as a paparazzi footnote—dead at 27 from alcohol poisoning after a long and public battle with drug addiction, devoured by the media and her own demons.”

This “factually exhaustive, emotionally exhausting documentary… calmly identifies multiple collaborators—some with intentions better than others—in Winehouse’s demise,” writes Variety‘s Guy Lodge. “Hardly innovative in form, but boasting the same depth of feeling and breadth of archival material that made Kapadia’s Senna so rewarding, this lengthy but immersive portrait will hit hard with viewers who regard Winehouse among the great lost voices not just of a generation, but of an entire musical genre.”

At Indiewire, Kaleem Aftab writes that “while it’s easy to empathize with her story, her struggles have been largely simplified by their reflection in popular culture. Two hours in the company of Kapadia’s heartbreaking documentary change all that.”

“Disappointingly,” finds Sophie Monks Kaufman at Little White Lies, “puffed-up melodrama is something that Asif Kapadia—despite his immense storytelling skill—adds to rather than pierces with his engrossing but somewhat pointless exercise in retracing the high and lowlights of a public figure already bogged down in hyperbolic projections.”

For the Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Dalton, “the film Amy most closely resembles is Brett Morgen’s recent Kurt Cobain bio-doc Montage of Heck. Both are emotionally raw portraits of freakishly gifted, self-destructive young musicians told through extensive home movies and personal writings. Indeed, Amy is full of striking parallels: Cobain and Winehouse both carried deep childhood scars from parental divorce, both embraced hard drugs with reckless gusto, both had turbulent marriages to fellow addicts and both checked out at the mythical dead-rock-star age of 27.”

Late last month, as Kat Brown reported in the Telegraph, the Winehouse family released a statement disassociating themselves from the doc, claiming that “it is both misleading and contains some basic untruths.” A few days later, Emine Saner got Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, to elaborate.

Meantime, Kaleem Aftab has flown to the Azerbaijani set of Kapadia’s next film, an adaptation of Kurban Said’s 1937 novel Ali and Nino, and spoken for Filmmaker to cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki “about his work on the film, the advantages of shooting day for night and his collaboration with Nuri Bilge Ceylan.”

Updates, 5/18: “Kapadia presents Winehouse looking her best,” notes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “We see her performing on Late Night with David Letterman, a glorious vision with Maria Callas eyes and Ronnie Spector hair, wearing a polka-dotted supper-club dress that makes her somewhat thoughtlessly placed tattoos look more glamorous, not less. But what really counts is the care Kapadia takes in showing Winehouse in her lowest moments: There are some disturbing stills, taken in Winehouse’s Camden flat in 2008, where she’s so gaunt from drug and alcohol abuse—and the eating disorders that plagued her—that her face appears to consist of just eyes and lips, the body around them whittled down to nothing.” And “if Mitch Winehouse failed his daughter, it should also be noted out that he was the man with the records, her first drug: It was through those records that she found the singers and musicians who helped shape her. No wonder her relationship with him was so complicated.”

“This is not an easy train wreck to watch,” grants the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips, “but it actually says something about how we package, revere, undermine and chew through all sorts of talent today. Seeing the film at Cannes, the epicenter of paparazzi-infested media attention this month, added another layer of irony to this cautionary tale.”

“Kapadia’s film is many things,” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin: “a Sherlockian reconstruction of Winehouse’s arcing path across the skies of superstardom, a commemoration of her colossal talent, and a moving tribute to a brilliant, witty, vivacious young woman gone far too soon.”

More from Ryland Aldrich (Twitch), Nicholas Barber (BBC), Dave Calhoun (Time Out, 4/5), Gregory Ellwood (HitFix) and Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B+).

Kapadia’s come to the defense of his film, reports the Telegraph: “It wasn’t the intention to upset anyone but just to show what was going on in her life. There was a lot of turmoil; there was a lot of stuff going on in her life—that’s why things turned out the way they did.”

Update, 5/19: “The film raises the question of whether this vulnerable woman would have been hounded by the paparazzi so much if we, the public, weren’t hungry to witness her destruction,” writes Vulture‘s Jada Yuan:

It’s here where Kapadia starts to enter murky moral territory, as the film relies more and more on paparazzi footage of Winehouse, in lieu of home videos, which seem to have dried up in the swell of her fame. Asked at a cocktail party before the film’s premiere if the movie had paid for that paparazzi footage, Kapadia said, “I didn’t handle that sort of stuff,” but he considers the footage to be essential and part of the public record. “In the end,” he says, “I felt like I had to tell the story and if you kind of get a bit didactic and say, ‘I’m not gonna use this, I’m not gonna use that,’ then you can’t tell the story. So I was like, ‘I’m gonna talk to everyone, I’m gonna use whatever I can to look at the big picture,’ so we used whatever we needed to tell the story.”

Update, 5/20: The full trailer:

Update, 5/25: Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage: “Perhaps the film’s strongest aspect is that it suggests that with every redtop sold, website clicked on, and cheap gag at her expense, in a way we were all at fault. And there’s something in there, about our cold blameless relationships with screens. What film critic David Thomson once called watching—our role as the voyeur continues even as we watch the film itself. It hasn’t stopped; we’re still the voyeurs; still watching Amy.”

Update, 5/28: Amy “gives context to images that were easy to dismiss at the moment,” writes Buzzfeed‘s Alison Willmore, “like Fielder-Civil emerging behind Winehouse from a bar in a series of pap snaps, a romantic reunion that instead looks like the reappearance of a horror-movie monster. The more famous Winehouse became, the less contact she had with anyone who would tell her ‘no,’ and she wasn’t able to help herself. The final stretches of the movie feel unrelentingly grim despite Kapadia’s chosen format, a relentless spiral down to an end we already know unfortunately well.”

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