‘When I tell people what I am, I say I am not a singer, I’m a Jazz singer,’ Amy sets straight in her ballsy attitude in a short candid clip of her practicing in a studio. That sets the tone of the film directed by documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia. First and foremost her love of music particularly Jazz which framed her style and a compillation of short candid videos all merged together seamlessly, bounded by the story of a young Jewish girl’s rised to stardom and fame and the tragic pitfalls that consumed her life and eventually took it away. The film itself was first debuted at a late night screening at this year's Cannes and has since snowballed from indie flick into one of the most anticipated biopics to hit the screens this year.
The videos are led by interviews of famous names who had been touched by the late songstress and the characters that framed her career, from the narration of her childhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert who stood by her throughout her success and recognition, her father Mitch who plays a key storyteller in this biopic, to her former manager Raye Cosbert, her musical collaborators friends, Mark Ronson and Tony Bennett, to name but a few, as well as conversations with her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, with whom Amy had developed her tumultuous relationship with drugs and alcohol.
It was easy to assume that before watching the film there would be an element of pure tragedy as Amy’s life and death was so readily noted in the media, this is true but there is also a component of good that this film delivers too. It is Amy’s side of the story from beyond the grave. It is told mostly through her voice, whether it be through her melancholic lyrics of depression and love loss or her ability to be a young silly girl, talking in accents, showing her affection to her closest friends in her personal voicemails she had left them which the film offers so honestly. She is also shown to be hilariously fun to be around, with her blunt tongue and wicked sense of humour, which she showed in one piece of archive footage of an interviewer who tried comparing her to singer Dido, her facial expression of complete disapproval lit the whole cinema with laughs.
What is clear to suggest from the way Amy acted in her short life, was that she was grieving a pain that went unnoticed for most of her life, a pain that was disguised and fuelled later on with men, drugs and alcohol and that her initial complexity was with her family separation at a young age between her mother and father. This issue is something a lot of a young people can relate to, but the real tragedy that the film uncovers was her continuous secret battle with bulimia and the painful affects this had on her body, which proved ultimately to be a key contributor in her death at the age of twenty-seven.
Amy’s private vulnerability and personal struggles did not always get the better of her, as she successfully channeled these into her craft, her timeless lyrics, five Grammy wins and forging the world famous albums Frank (2003) and Back to Black (2006) consecutively as well as stand alone singles that will live forever such as Rehab and Love is a Losing Game. In the end, what the film shines a light on is the idea that Amy was a legend of our time who helped bring classic jazz to the forefront of popular culture, the unique old-school jazz stylings of her voice were epitomised by the legendary Tony Bennett himself when he says at the end, ‘Amy was up there with Billie holiday and Ella Fitzgerald,’ which was a very true comparison and a contrast that has proved since her death to be a voice that will live on with us far longer than her life.
If you haven’t already, watch Amy at your nearest cinema. My personal recommendation, check it out in the intimacy of the Electric Cinema in Shoreditch.
Amy was released in UK cinemas 3rd July 2015.