Asif Kapadia’s ‘Amy’: Some Brief Thoughts

Peppered throughout Asif Kapadia’s ‘Amy’ is footage of paparazzi haranguing Amy Winehouse. These moments are violent and frenetic, featuring fast cuts and multiple perspectives of the same event. They are heavily contrasted to the slow, meditative pace of the rest of the film. This serves the clear rhetorical function of heightening our disgust towards the invasive actions of these men who objectify Winehouse and do not allow her peace or privacy. The film also turns on comedians like Frankie Boyle who used Winehouse’s illness and suffering for jokes, for their own gain. It shows Mitch Winehouse’s exploitation of his daughter, his wish to make money off of her success, and his lack of concern for her wellbeing.

Never does ‘Amy’ turn this criticism inwardly, to itself. As the paparazzi and media are condemned the question is never raised as to why they are able to exist, why the public are so interested in Winehouse’s –and celebrities in general– personal life. ‘Amy’ therefore never questions us, the viewer. Why are we watching it? Can it be more than voyeurism? To do would so the film would have had to question its own reasons for existing; it would have needed to interrogate the documentary form itself, and in doing so would undermine the narrative of her life that is constructed. Winehouse becomes mythologised. There is the suggestion throughout that her talent was a kind of Faustian pact and so her death was unavoidable.

The voiceovers provided by those who knew Winehouse are overlaid on footage from when she was alive; we never see them as they speak. There is perhaps one exception as we briefly see Mos Def speaking about Winehouse, but when this was filmed is not actually noted. The film never deals with a post-death time. We hear Juliette Ashby talk over a video of a holiday with Winehouse but we never see her do so. The voiceover and the video then become concurrent and inseparable. Ashby, then, is not seen as interpreting the past after the fact but simply describing it. This is an attempt to hide the selecting and ordering process that is a part of all documentaries and so to create a naturalism to the events and the story. It is to claim objectivity.

The shots that are not repurposed footage function to detach the film itself from Winehouse and her life. Every single one, as I recall, involves an ascension of the camera away from some area connected with Winehouse. Furthermore, home footage is often paused to linger on a particular image to extend the pathos. When Winehouse’s body, at the film’s conclusion, is brought out of her home and placed into an ambulance there is a slight disjunction of time as the camera cuts between two different sources. There is a small rewind, a small repetition.

This is documentary making from above. Asif Kapadia becomes God.

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