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5 reasons why Amy is essential viewing


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Amy Winehouse: the mere whisper of that name will instantly spark a plethora of imagery, thoughts and opinions among the most innocent of bystanders.

The singer-songwriter, responsible for propelling jazz into the mainstream throughout the late noughties, died tragically of alcohol poisoning in 2011 at the tender age of 27. Famous for instantly recognisable hits such as Back to Black, her definitive cover of The Zutons' Valerie and of course the wittily confessional stroke of brilliance that is Rehab, Winehouse's starkly honest songwriting helped to ensure that her tumultuous personal life, characterised by addiction in various forms, consistently made headlines and almost overshadowed her essential musical genius.

Asif Kapadia's recently released documentary Amy, however, strives to challenge the pre-existing media construction of Winehouse. The portrait painted by the tabloids of the star as a notorious drug and alcohol abuser who crumbled under the glare of the celebrity lens is all but overturned; Kapadia studies the charismatic, passionate and heartbreakingly genuine girl beyond the beehive; the girl who only ever wanted to sing. Here are five reasons why Amy is truly compulsive viewing.

1. We get an in-depth look at the girl behind the eyeliner.

Amy was something of a media staple at the very height of her fame, with her hardcore partying lifestyle and destructive relationships publicised far beyond her artistry. Therefore, you, the reader, and audiences watching this film in particular may be forgiven for carrying their initial pre-conceptions of the singer into the film with them, and for presuming they know all there is to of her character and story.

Kapadia swiftly proves that the Amy we thought we knew is significantly far removed from the Amy that none of us actually really knew at all. He utterly transforms the documentary form into an inherently cinematic narrative, taking us on an engaging and deeply personal journey through her short life; every individual who was ever close to Amy, including her husband, parents, close friends and management, appear in voiceover against a backdrop  of revealing home and professional footage. The film opens with a 14-year-old Amy at a birthday party with friends; make-up, tattoo and wig-free, her mere rendition of "Happy Birthday", is enough to take anyone's breath away, and Kapadia subtly stresses that we are about to spend two hours with a misunderstood genius.

2. The film treats its subject with the care and sensitivity she was never afforded in life.

Kapadia allows Amy's infectious personality to truly shine, demonstrating how her charisma bewitched everyone around her. Her distinctive cockney twang makes her seem instantly personable; in an early interview with Jonathan Ross she jokes about how elocution lessons didn't succeed and was resolutely maintaining her "common" accent. Kapadia effortlessly conveys her unfailing sense of humour - her facial expressions alone when an interviewer inexplicably presses her about singer Dido are a highlight - and yet her heartbreaking vulnerability, desperation to be loved and wisdom beyond her years are also starkly apparent. Her own words, spoken early on in the film, "I don't think I'll be at all famous... I'd go mad" take on a truly tragic resonance as we watch this sparkling woman who clearly had it all be taken down a path of self-destruction by those she trusted the most.

3. The film is presented almost entirely objectively.

Admirably, Kapadia refrains from coercing his audience into adopting any specific viewpoint; events are presented truthfully but without bias or judgement. We can therefore draw our own conclusions on the spiralling trajectory of Amy's life that led to her downfall, and on the key players involved. It would be simple for a director to dramatise events and to pinpoint Amy's husband and/or father as the villains of the piece, to conversely present Winehouse herself as a shining beacon amidst the drugs and debauchery. Nevertheless, Kapadia ensures that not a single person is portrayed in a false light and as a result we are presented with the most accurate, informed account possible.

4. The film truly preserves Amy's legacy.

Kapadia's most eminent intention in making this film appears to be that her legacy is now the correct one, casting her final shambolic performance in St Lucia totally aside; his interest in studying the real person behind the carefully constructed image adds a level of empathy and compassion the public could never have gained otherwise. Her enormously rich, incredible voice is also brought to the fore, seemingly channelled straight from the 1920s, as in one scene she sits with a guitar and blows away everyone in the record company office with the strength and emotional power of her voice alone. It's a very fitting tribute to a prodigy.

5. Ultimately, Amy celebrates the eponymous star's incredible music.

More autobiographical than anyone could have realised, Kapadia emphasises the raw honesty expressed in Amy's incomparably witty lyrics by flashing them on the screen at pivotal moments as she provides the perfect soundtrack for her own story. Amy famously lamented that she went "back to black" after losing her love, and indeed the world became a little darker after we lost this fallen icon with the huge hair and, as it transpires, huge heart.

Amy is in cinemas now. Watch the trailer below






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