That’s the thought that enters the mind about half an hour into Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy, and it’s a feeling that stays for the rest of the movie, the stroll back to the car, the drive home, and beyond.
I’ll confess here that I was never much of a fan of Amy Winehouse, either the songstress or the persona that the media shoved down the public’s throat. I mean, I own a copy of Back to Black and I listen to it occasionally, seldom all the way through, usually just the hits and I enjoy it. I mean, I can appreciate that she was a great singer. It’s more that she was never really my cup of tea.
So I went into the documentary in much the same way as I did with Kapadia’s previous effort, 2010’s Senna, which brought Formula One racing to life in a way that actually watching Formula One has consistently failed to do for me. I loved Senna far more than I loved Senna.
The style between the two films is pretty much identical. Take some stock archive footage, intersperse it with private home video, throw some stills and some audio interviews, never ever have a talking head. Take what you have and put it together in such a way that the story tells itself and do it in such a way that it seems ridiculously, and deceptively, simple.
The denouement as well is cut from related cloth. We know there’s no happy ending here. Where it differs from Senna, though, is that there’s not much of a happy beginning, either. The moments of joy seem fleeting and quickly crushed by another new depressing low.
As this sad, compelling story unfolds, I found myself yearning for someone to step in and pull her away from her father, her husband, her manager, her hangers-on, for someone just to put their foot on the brake and say enough is enough. Knowing from the outset that this doesn’t happen in no way lessens the impact, it just makes the situation more hopeless.
There are many moments during the two hour running time where Kapadia lightens the doom a shade or two and allows her humour and her talent, both as a singer and a writer to shine through. Amy as herself, beneath the beehive and without the drugs, is a warm, charming, often funny young woman, frequently awestruck by her heroes and influences. Beneath that, she was never short of a demon or two and when they were pushed out time and time again in front of a battery of exploding camera flashes — which more than once forced me to look away — we’re left with the feeling that the end was always going to be this way. The variable was the speed at which she would crash head first into it.
Either way, she didn’t stand a chance.