"Amy" is the story of sixfold Grammy-awarded jazz singer Amy Winehouse's rise and fall, in her own words through a compilation of archive material. BAFTA-awarded director Asif Kapadia ("Senna") has masterfully created a portrait of Amy with the help of videos and recordings from her teens until her tragic and untimely death at the age of 27, interspersed with interviews of her friends and family.
Amy Winehouse was inspired by the great jazz and blues artists from the mid-twentieth century, and herself one of the greatest musicians of our times. The movie begins showing a happy and somewhat sassy girl, who opens up to a great depth when she sings. But she turns out to have an anxious and sensitive nature, and end up struggling to cope with her enormous success. From early on, she's prone to drugs and is suffering from bulimia. It is heartbreaking to see how the spiral down into deeper drug abuse is largely driven by the selfishness of those around her, and at the end, the film seems to be her cry for help. This amazing voice, this gift – that she would gladly replace with a life of anonymity! Despite the sad ending, Amy's story told with so much warmth and joy that the film neither feels heavy or sentimental, but rather a piece of entertaining contemporary history that leaves us with many questions about the celebrity hysteria to ponder about.
A24 Films invited to a preview screening of "Amy" at the School of Visual Arts in New York, followed by a Q&A with director Asif Kapadia and producer James Gay-Reef:
About how to find archive material for the film:
-The way it works is that we research for materials for about six months before the editing begins. We go through all the obvious sources of archival material such as BBC, etc., in all countries to see what is available. The big challenge is of course to find materials that nobody's seen before. Unlike "Senna", where all materials more or less came from the same source, and everyone wanted to be part of it, nobody wanted to get involved in this film at all. We did not know who was who in her social circles, and she [Amy] had a huge and complex social life. It was like a jigsaw puzzle, and we set up a long timeline on a wall with post-it notes. The search began on youtube but the problem was that most were bad performances from her last period, and television interviews with only her, and you can only use so much of that. The breakthrough came with her first manager Nick Shymansky, who first did not want to collaborate because it was too soon after her passing, but he also said that he really liked the "Senna" (laughs). Had anyone else contacted him, it had been easy to say no, but he had actually said to his wife after watching "Senna" that it would be fantastic if someone could make such a film about Amy, but ten years from now. This was only a year later, but since he said what he said, he agreed to at least see us, and ended up being so impressed by our timeline and all the work we'd done that he opened up his laptop that held all this amazing footage.
About interviewing Amy's friends:
-Amy's closest friends had a pact not to discuss her with anyone, because of the way she had been treated by media. It was literally eighteen months of "please, please, talk to us." Then the problem was that there were many different versions of the same event, and a lot of blame. She was a complex person who presented herself differently in different social contexts. Some thought she was the most motherly and caring person they'd ever met, others said she was the most intelligent person they met, while Pete Duherty said she behaved like a real gangster sometimes (laughs). So it was up to us to try to reconcile the different views and at the same time take them at face value.
About piecing together Amy's life:
Everything is in the lyrics. I (Asif) was not listening carefully enough at first, but all I wanted to know she had already written down. What she sings in "Rehab" is real! It is not just lyrics, but she tells what happened at a particular time. It is about Nick, trying to get her in to rehabilitation, she says she goes if her dad says so. In "Stronger Than Me", she asks her mother to put stronger limits. The mother was not able to do so because her own mother was not motherly towards her, which is so sad. So her lyrics are maps with clues to everything.
About the mixed reactions of the film:
-It's not comfortable for all to see, but it is honest. We spoke with over a hundred people and we used archives where you can see for yourself what is going on, material that has been shown on television in England. The comments that have to do with her upbringing comes out of her own mouth. All participants were interviewed in the same way, in a calm and orderly manner, no one stormed out as the media reported. They signed permission for us to use the interview material, otherwise it would not be in the film. But everyone had a bit of guilt. They felt that they could have done more, or that others could have done more. And since many of her friends was also musicians, who'd written books and made TV appearances, and perhaps felt that why she, why not us? But the film is about her, not about those who are trying to make it something about themselves. There were many egos involved but ultimately it is the truth that comes out.
About what Amy's ex-husband Blake thought about the movie:
-Blake is a fascinating character and he is super smart too. But he is an addict and it was a classic case of Amy finding someone more damaged than herself to take care of, instead of taking care of herself. And it was an intense love affair. Many of the involved said that perhaps he was not their cup of tea, but she loved him and they respected that. Blake was a little skeptical to meet us at the beginning, since he has a mixed relationship with the media, to which he sold many stories in the past. He is a complicated person but he is honest and I (James) like him. He saw the film last week in London and loved it, which surprised me, but he said that is because it shows how much love that existed between them. He said he is honored to be a part of it. Blake has been to jail, and recognize and accept his mistakes. He has many scars and has been through some bad stuff, but he is not stupid, he's intelligent and charismatic. And in some ways he has become the scapegoat, as if it wasn't for him, Amy would still be alive, but that's not true. All issues were there already.