From the award-winning director of Senna, and featuring raw footage of Winehouse, this "extraordinary, powerful" (Indiewire) film is the best-performing box office biographical documentary to date this year, and features never-before-seen footage of the talented singer (including collaborations with her musical idol Tony Bennett and producer Mark Ronson) along with interviews with her closest friends and family, as well as previously unreleased music recordings. Certified Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes, this intimate, shocking, and brilliant film was a Cannes Film Festival Official Selection, and was released theatrically in 2015 by A24.
Created by the same team that produced the documentary 'Senna' about Ayrton Senna da Silva, the three-time world champion Formula One racecar driver, 'Amy' tells the tragic and regrettably all-too-familiar tale of a talented individual whose life was cut short due to addiction. What makes this film rise above similar ones, in addition to the great music and performances, is Amy's heart-warming personality.
Opening up in 1998, the film begins with home-video footage of a teenage Amy at a party that includes her friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert. She already exhibits a delightful silliness and a captivating presence that is hard to look away from. Within the next few years, she begins a career in music, impressing people along the way with her voice, delivery, and songwriting. In 2003, at only 20 years old, she releases her debut, "Frank", which saw critical and commercial success in the UK.
Before working on her next album, she began an extremely toxic relationship with Blake Fiedler while each was involved with other people. Fiedler left Amy to return to his girlfriend, which led Amy to a breakdown. People around her thought she needed rehab for alcohol, possibly other things as well, but her father didn’t think so. She was able to call upon this experience and with help from producer Mark Ronson and the band known as the Dap-Kings create her most successful song, "Rehab."
Fiedler and Amy reunited, and he can be seen horning in on photo shoot. They got married in May 18, 2007. When they retuned from America, Fiedler introduced Amy to crack cocaine and heroin for the first time. During a concert in July, Amy looks a mess, slapping her face to focus. She is seen wavering and heard slurring. After overdosing the following month in her flat on an amount of drugs that left doctors amazed she wasn't in a coma, viewers who don't know her story can certainly see how it’s going to end.
Not only are her self-induced troubles heartbreaking but also so are the trappings of fame that came along with her success. The disgusting paparazzi hound her like vultures as her antics apparently sell papers and magazines. It's clear this unwanted attention troubles her, leading to more drugs and alcohol, creating a vicious cycle. Her dad even takes advantage of her fame, bringing a camera crew for a TV documentary about him to St. Lucia where she had escaped to relax and recharge with friends.
Tony Bennett thought so highly of Amy he describes her as "one of the truest jazz singers I had ever heard," putting her in a rarified class with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. He asked her to join him on his "Duets II" album to sing "Body and Soul,' a dream come true as he was one of her idols. It would be her final recording session. She is understandably nervous, and Bennett is so kind and comforting in the way he talks to her. It's unfortunate she couldn't have spent more time under his wing.
Amy's last concert was an infamous appearance headlining a Belgrade music festival in June 2011. Wanting to escape the pressures of being "Amy Winehouse" and all that entailed, she sabotaged herself and didn't perform, which upset those in attendance and generated bad press. The remaining European tour dates were cancelled, which seemed a perfect opportunity to get refocused. Yet on July 23, her heart gave out after drinking more than four times the driving limit.
From the compiled footage and off-screen interviews with friends and family, Amy is revealed to be a sweet, sympathetic figure. Fans should be happy to see rare performances and portions of unreleased songs throughout the film. In an interview while her career was on the rise she was asked if it’s hard to know whom to trust, an ironic question because ultimately she couldn’t trust herself.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has released 'Amy' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a blue ecocase with a slipcover. There are trailers for ‘Love & mercy’, ‘The End of the Tour; ‘Dark Places’ 'Mississippi Grind,' and ‘Room’.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The sources run the gamut from HD TV broadcasts to consumer equipment so the quality is wildly varied. Material was clearly chosen for its historical significance in telling Amy's story rather than its appearance, so some sequences look great and others are so poor it's almost a surprise they made the cut, if they didn’t offer essential information.
For example, colors can come through in pleasing vivid hues in one scene and later be a dull, muddled mess. Blacks can be inky or the shadows can be comprised of reds and greens. One shot in a dark Miami restaurant while someone talks to Fiedler on the day of the marriage in, possibly recorded on a cel phone, is so densely pixilated I was surprised not to see 1s and 0s on the screen.
The audio is available in DTS-Master Audio 5.1. Like the video, the audio comes from a variety of sources as well. The dialogue at times sound clear, like interviews recorded for the film. Other times, such as when Amy is heard from an old phone message or radio interview, it's not as clear, so the filmmakers make use of open captions to help.
The music fills the surrounds during opening credits. Completed studio tracks naturally have the best dynamics and fidelity in Amy's vocals and the music. The live and demo material doesn't sound as good. During the unreleased "Detachment", the bass distorts. An interview becomes part of the mix and the distortion goes away. While singing club, supported with a guitar, the ambiance of the crowd barely paying attention can be heard.
While 'Amy' tells the too-often-told story of a young person overwhelmed by fame and addiction, it's a bitter reminder of the great talent that was lost and the reasons she deserves to be remembered. The HD presentation is as good as can be expected for a documentary considering the limitations of the sources. Well worth owning for her musical performances alone.