REVIEW: Amy

11 07 2015

AmySince our shallow society can scarcely handle complexity, a rather traditional narrative gets slapped onto the life and death of Amy Winehouse. Unfortunately, her membership to the “27 Club” alongside Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison lent itself to vast overgeneralization.  People tend to cast her as a talented but troubled artist haunted by personal demons, substance addictions, and public pressure.

Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy,” pieced together solely from personal videos and archival performance footage of the singer/songwriter, steals the story back for two hours to correct mistaken notions and fill in a few holes of knowledge.  In many ways, public perception of Winehouse’s downward-spiraling trajectory was spot-on.  But thanks to Kapadia, the familiarity of her struggle does not make her journey conventional.  It makes the tale even more tragic.

Be it a jazzy rendition of “Happy Birthday” at 14, a record label sitting room in her late teens, or packed outdoor arenas in the UK by her early twenties, Amy Winehouse knew how to captivate any audience with her singing voice and fiery personality.  She began writing songs because there was, as she put it, “nothing new that represented me.”  Winehouse’s words and melodies come from a place of authenticity, informed by the real pain of traumatic childhood events like a divorce and a diagnosis of depression.

For many years, people like me were content to consume Amy Winehouse’s albums while merely considering her as a figure, not a person.  To produce music that resonates on such a personal level by confronting inner darkness, she had to face her fair share of issues.  Throughout “Amy,” the songs weave naturally into the storyline, a brilliant editorial choice since the words flowed so directly from her life.  Kapadia usually opts to superimpose the words over Winehouse singing live, allowing an appreciation of her talents as both a lyricist and a performer.

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REVIEW: Senna

5 07 2015

SennaI saw Ron Howard’s “Rush,” a film fictionalizing a storied Formula 1 rivalry, and found no problems following it or being (marginally) entertained by it.  Ditto the F1 documentary “Weekend of a Champion,” which amounts to little more than Roman Polanski following around driver Jackie Stewart.  I thought it was fascinating enough to stay awake at the screening in Cannes, which is actually a pretty big feat.

So, objectively, there is no reason I should not be able to connect with Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Senna,” which presents the story of legendary F1 driver Ayrton Senna.  Yet I never found an entry point in the film. For someone rather unversed in the sport like myself, this story proved rather impenetrable.

I suppose hardcore fans would probably praise the film because of my disdain, glad “Senna” does not pander to the uninitiated.  Kapadia constructs the film, which follows Senna’s rise to the top and its tragic ending, solely from archival footage and pre-existing interviews.  No talking heads, no perspective presented with the benefit of hindsight.  In other words, he tells the story entirely in the present tense – a true rarity for a documentary.

The structural ambition is commendable, but it also serves to limit the audience. Anyone who needs to know how Formula 1 operates or why Senna mattered gets left in the dust by Kapadia.  C2stars