If you thought the emotionally draining Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck was on course to be the most harrowing music documentary of 2015, then think again. The story of Amy Winehouse’s rapid ascent to fame and her parallel descent into addiction is even more depressing than this year’s elegiac look at the disturbed Nirvana frontman’s fractured existence. Using rafts of previously unseen home footage of a charming and downright hilarious Amy hanging out with mates and in the giddy early stages of her music career, the sadness lies in the fact that her heartbreaking outcome never seems as predestined as Cobain’s. The relative closeness both in the location and time of her story adds further poignancy, with the sound of her yapping north London chatter far closer to home than Cobain’s exotic Pacific Northwest murmur.
Told via new interviews with her friends, family and colleagues – including producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, rapper Mos Def and ex-husband Blake Fielder, as well as through the words of Amy herself – layered over candid clips, the story portrayed here is presented as gospel. It’s therefore easy to see why her father, Mitch, was against the film coming out. Alongside Fielder and her second manager Raye Cosbert, he’s painted as one of the bad guys, refusing to let his daughter go to rehab, pushing her to tour when she was mentally and physically on the verge of collapse and turning up at her Caribbean retreat with a BBC camera crew in tow.
Such moments like these make for painful viewing, but there’s plenty of joy and humour to be found here. Rather than simply showing Amy as the victim, the sheer force of her charisma leaps out in a succession of charming moments: rolling her eyes during an interview as a journalist waffles on about Dido, the behind-the-scenes run-up to winning the Record Of The Year Grammy for ‘Rehab’ and her nerviness when recording with her idol Tony Bennett.
Yet it’s the tragedy that makes the film – and Amy herself – so compelling. She begins to unravel as she moves to the Sin City-esque Camden following the release of 2003 debut ‘Frank’, spending her days playing pool in The Good Mixer and falling into a deep obsession with Fielder when she was supposed to be writing her new album. Her battles with bulimia, alcoholism, depression and drugs seem pushed to the limit by tempestuous relationships with the paparazzi, her father and her boyfriend. From 2005, her career is presented as an act of self-sabotage, a reaction against the attention she tried not to court. In a snippet from an early interview, we hear Amy ominously predicting her fate while discussing fame. “I don’t think I could handle it,” she offers, bleakly. “I think I’d go mad.”
Don’t miss the special nationwide preview screenings of Amy showing tonight (June 30), followed by a Q&A and exclusive footage – live via satellite from the London Premiere. Find a screening near you and book tickets now here