Talking Pictures

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Amy, UK 2015.

Posted by keith1942 on July 18, 2015

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This documentary has been compiled by Asif Kapadia from ‘found footage’, found photographs, found audio including mobile phones, and runs for 128 minutes [possibly slightly over-long]. At times it is quite hard viewing, partly because of the grim downward spiral of its protagonist Amy Winehouse: but also because much of the amateur or video footage is extremely grainy and there are several sequences of rapid flash photography by the paparazzi. However, it is an extremely involving film and likely will grip audiences in the way that Kapadia’s earlier Senna (2010) succeeded.

Both films rely on the compiled visual and aural material. The editing by Chris King is impressive as is the work of the Sound Department supervised by Stephen Griffiths. There is no overarching commentary and the tapestry of image and sound works to provide a portrait. This has the feel of a subjective portrait, but by implication and counterpoint rather than by direct statement, the film does ‘point the finger’ at the situations and the people that fed into the singer’s tragic demise. Cumulatively the film builds up a strong case against the mainstream music industry, the media and what is known as the paparazzi. And the film emphasises these points with long, large close-ups of Amy, as she deteriorates physically and psychologically.

For me there is also a less emphasised irony in the film. For Amy Winehouse’s writing and singing appear strongest early in her career. The later songs, when she became a musical icon, did not seem to have the power and intensity of her first two albums. In fact, the film relies on much informal recording of her singing and performances. Her main output remains under copyright and presumably will surface in a biopic which is likely to be rather bland by comparison.

The film works more or less chronologically, with a few well-chosen flashbacks. It is more a biopic than a musical study. This means that the film does not really address Winehouse’s espousal of a particular strand in US Blues and Jazz singing, [represented by her idols Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan]. Other British singers with parallel vocal talent seem to me to have a distinctive UK take on blues and jazz: [Cleo Lane or Julie Driscoll would be good examples]. This seems to be to offer a interesting area of study. Of course, the trajectory presented in the film reminds one irresistibly of Billie Holiday, another wonderful singer fated by demonic muses.

 

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