A GIRL CALLED AMY

Asif Ka­pa­dia on his Amy Wine­house doc­u­men­tary, and the mo­ments that he says changed her life for­ever

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

When film-mak­ers Asif Ka­pa­dia (di­rec­tor), James Gay-Rees (pro­ducer) and Chris King (editor) col­lab­o­rated on the 2010 doc­u­men­tary Senna, the re­sult­ing por­trait of the For­mula One driver Ayr­ton Senna earned a brace of awards and rave no­tices. Now Ka­pa­dia and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have turned their at­ten­tion to another tragic, gone-too-soon star, the late jazzy soul­stress Amy Wine­house.

Amy Wine­house died in July 2011, aged 27, of al­co­hol-re­lated is­sues, five years af­ter the multi-plat­inum suc­cess of her sec­ond stu­dio al­bum, Back to Black.

As with the posthu­mously as­sem­bled Senna, Ka­pa­dia’s pro­foundly sad and of­ten mad­den­ing bio-doc Amy was nec­es­sar­ily crafted with­out di­rect ac­cess to its sub­ject. With Senna, how­ever, the di­rec­tor could call on an ex­ten­sive For­mula One archive and peo­ple who saw him ev­ery day. Wine­house’s life and death proved trick­ier to un­tan­gle.

“On Senna, there were ex­perts. They had read ev­ery book,” says the 43-year-old film­maker. “With Amy, there was no ob­vi­ous go-to per­son. There was no jour­nal­ist who knew her the whole way through. There were peo­ple who dropped in and out of her life. It be­came a process of try­ing to in­ves­ti­gate her life. Of what hap­pened and why. One by one, I worked my way down the list.”

Gaps

The dif­fi­cul­ties posed by Amy Wine­house’s scat­ter­shot so­cial

life were com­pounded by gaps in the avail­able footage. As Ka­pa­dia notes, even be­fore Back to

Black made her a global name, Wine­house was al­ready a shell of her for­mer self.

“She re­ally did change,” Ka­pa­dia says. “I read many in­ter­views in var­i­ous mag­a­zines. From 2007 on, there are al­most no in­ter­views.

“She did a short tour of the US then, and all the jour­nal­ists were all say­ing she was un­in­ter­ested and not a good talker. I read that and thought: did they meet her? I had seen what she used to be like. She was very forth­com­ing, very funny, very ar­tic­u­late.

“Then Back to Black came along, and she just didn’t speak any more. When all the is­sues be­hind the scenes kicked off, she stopped talk­ing. It was stun­ning how quickly she changed.”

To fill in the gaps, Ka­pa­dia con­ducted more than 100 in­ter­views with friends, col­leagues, and fam­ily mem­bers. Wine­house’s for­mer hus­band, Blake Fielder-Civil, who has of­ten been ac­cused of in­tro­duc­ing Wine­house to hard drugs, gives a lengthy ac­count of their time to­gether. Many in­ter­vie­wees, in­clud­ing Wine­house’s child­hood friends Juli­ette Ashby and Lau­ren Gil­bert, were ini­tially wary of go­ing on the record and had sworn a “vow of si­lence” at her fu­neral.

“They took a long time to come round,” says Ka­pa­dia. “They also had lots of great footage. They were very ner­vous. They were in from the be­gin­ning and they had an is­sue with pa­parazzi and the media. They didn’t trust any­one.”

Hold-out

Another no­table hold-out was Salaam Remi, who co-pro­duced Wine­house’s plat­inum-selling de­but al­bum, Frank.

“He was also there from the be­gin­ning,” says Ka­pa­dia. “He works with some amaz­ing peo- ple, like The Fugees, but he doesn’t give in­ter­views. I have now been in­ter­viewed by a lot of mu­sic jour­nal­ists and I have yet to meet one who has met Salaam. I didn’t know that go­ing in. He is a pri­vate per­son. It took over a year to get him to meet me.”

In ad­di­tion to these tes­ti­monies, Ka­pa­dia com­plied footage from archive, news broad­casts, still pho­to­graphs, self­ies, pa­parazzi shots, con­certs and home movies. Tak­ing cues from Wine­house’s star­tlingly in­ti­mate lyrics, he spent 20 months play­ing de­tec­tive in the edit­ing suite to cre­ate the most com­pre­hen­sive retelling of her life to date.

“There were things that didn’t make sense,” he says. “How did things turn out the way they did? Does any­body care? I was forced to think very deeply. The clues were in the songs. The songs tell you ev­ery­thing.”

In chrono­log­i­cal or­der, Amy charts Wine­house’s life and ca­reer. In early scenes we en­counter a fire­brand, a funny, charm­ing teenager who cracks wise from the back of her first man­ager’s car as they travel from one jazz dive to another.

By the end, as a brief reel of mean-spir­ited comic mono- logues demon­strate, her de­scent into sub­stance abuse, bu­limia and al­co­holism made her a punch­line for co­me­di­ans and chat-show hosts ev­ery­where.

“Those were a few ex­am­ples,” says Ka­pa­dia. “That sec­tion could have been 25 min­utes long. Longer, even. There’s stuff from Brazil. There’s stuff from Amer­ica. There’s stuff from ev­ery­where. So much of it is neg­a­tive. It’s in­dus­trial in­ter­na­tional bul­ly­ing. It’s open sea­son. And she can’t fire back.

“Peo­ple say all pub­lic­ity is good pub­lic­ity. But that’s a lie. More and more you see peo­ple laugh­ing at her online and shar­ing clips on YouTube. Here are co­me­di­ans mak­ing jokes about a per­son who is sick. I hope that when peo­ple step away from the film, they’ll see that.”

Standin­go­va­tion

Amy re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion at its Cannes pre­miere, but not ev­ery­body is happy. Last month, Wine­house’s fa­ther, Mitch, re­vealed that he had re­quested that the film be re-edited af­ter see­ing its orig­i­nal cut, claim­ing that the doc­u­men­tary had an “agenda” and had por­trayed him and the rest of his fam­ily in “the worst pos­si­ble light”.

He pre-emp­tively ap­peared on ITV’s This Morn­ing, say­ing: “Had the first film come out, I wouldn’t have been able to walk down the street as there would have been peo­ple who wanted to shoot me and Amy’s man­ager, Raye [Cos­bert].”

Mitch Wine­house re­mains dis­sat­is­fied by Ka­pa­dia’s sub­se­quently al­tered film and has ex­pressed an in­ter­est in mak­ing his own doc­u­men­tary, or pos­si­bly a biopic. In­ter­est­ingly, Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic, who made the ini­tial ap­proach to Ka­pa­dia’s pro­ducer, James Gay-Rees, only se­cured the co­op­er­a­tion of Wine­house’s par­ents, Mitch and Ja­nis, when the di­rec­tor signed on.

No agen­das

Ka­pa­dia in­sists there was no agenda against Mitch Wine­house or any­one else. “I go into films as a blank sheet,” he says. “You in­ter­view 100 peo­ple. You hear these sto­ries. The film is the essence of all that I heard and what I think.

“There are cer­tain things that peo­ple will be un­com­fort­able with. Ev­ery­one at some point feels guilty about their part in the story. As much as we can be, it is sup­posed to be an hon­est rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Amy’s life. We are not point­ing the fin­ger in any di­rec­tion.”

It’s true that Amy re­sists sham­ing and blam­ing any one in­di­vid­ual. Rather, the film de­picts a knot­ted, sys­temic se­ries of fail­ings and frail­ties, as those around Wine­house – a woman who des­per­ately craved ap­proval and love – fail to in­ter­vene suc­cess­fully in her de­cline.

“The ex­perts I have talked to say the ear­lier you in­ter­vene, the more likely you are to suc­ceed,” says Ka­pa­dia. “But the build­ing blocks for the prob­lems started long be­fore the footage shows. It’s com­pli­cated. With Amy, there were so many com­pli­ca­tions.”

Amy opens on July 3rd

There was no jour­nal­ist who knew her the whole way through. There were peo­ple who dropped in and out of her life. It be­came a process of try­ing to in­ves­ti­gate her life. Of what hap­pened and why. One by one, I worked my way down the list ‘Back to Black’ came along, and Amy just didn’t speak any more. When all the is­sues be­hind the scenes kicked off, she stopped talk­ing. It was stun­ning how quickly she changed – Asif Ka­pa­dia

MU­SIC, MOVIES THEATRE, ART, FES­TI­VALS, MAR­KETS & FAM­ILY EVENTS

Amy Wine­house

“The clues were in the songs. The songs tell

you ev­ery­thing”

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