Amy Directed by Asif Kapadia. Rated R. Opens Friday.
A few years ago, the British filmmaker Asif Kapadia made a documentary called Senna, about the late Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, that took an unusual but extremely effective form: It was constructed entirely in the present tense, as if the events of Senna’s life were unfolding before our eyes right now. Though it’s not quite as rigorous, Kapadia’s latest film, Amy, does much the same for the late singer Amy Winehouse (“Rehab”), who died of alcohol poisoning four years ago at the age of 27. Most of her story—first triumphant, then increasingly sad—is told via archival footage in a wide variety of formats, and while the general trajectory is very ehind the Music, few episodes of that show are assembled with such skill.
Unlike the various documentaries about Kurt Cobain, Amy doesn’t stoop to presenting conspiracy theories about its subject’s death, or even point fingers at those who may have facilitated it. Still, Winehouse’s father, Mitch, and her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, both come across as destructive influences on a woman with a very shaky sense of self, and viewers will have little trouble drawing their own conclusions. Kapadia throws in some traditional talking-head interviews (albeit mostly in audio form only), and it makes sense in this context—a pop singer touches people in a way that a racecar driver does not. Thankfully, the film is as much a celebration as an elegy, and while much of the footage included is low-definition (to put it mildly), Winehouse’s performances and songwriting craft, as showcased here, make a strong case for her legacy.