Amy and the Power of the Editor

Amy 2


The Amy Enigma

Amy Winehouse is considered a music icon by many: one that captured the world's attention with her voice but perhaps even more so with her tragically, and dare I say inevitably, early death. Yet the Amy enigma, the obsession we had with Amy, existed throughout her life. She was the subject of constant public fascination, resulting in the relentless and invasive media attention which documented both her troubled lifestyle and musical career.


Perhaps the creation of a documentary was the inevitable final step to satisfy our incessant curiosity about Amy.

Amy - The Film

The film was produced by Universal and the award-winning team behind the powerful documentary Senna, including director Asif Kapadia. Expectations were therefore high for Amy, which was released in the UK this July and has since caused quite a stir.  The film features extensive unseen archive footage and previously unheard tracks. From ten to fifteen thousand hours of footage, a two hour film emerged…


The final result is artistic. They've cleverly paralleled Amy's lyrics with the messages of the film, claiming that through her music Amy was essentially 'saying everything that the film is saying'. This gives the impression that the film is true to Amy. Kapadia displays the lyrics on screen in handwritten script, quietly drawing attention to the many parallels between her life and art. He edits masterfully, especially in the final moments of the film when Winehouse sings, “You know I’m yours for just the taking. I’d gladly surrender myself to you, body and soul.”  Whether it's accurate or not to attribute Amy’s lyrics to a description of her life - to use them to document her downfall - is a separate issue. What can be said is that the film truly makes you appreciate the genius of the lyrics, and of Amy herself.


Initially the Winehouse family, in particular her father Mitch, supported the film and participated in it willingly. Mitch is not shy to the camera, nor to the paparazzi or film crews. He was criticised in 2010 for essentially making a show about himself under the guise ‘My Daughter Amy’, which he has recently defended as a well-intentioned documentary about drug addiction in the family. However, by the time ‘Amy’ was released to the public the Winehouse family weren't happy at all. They have since distanced themselves from the entire project. Mitch even attempted to halt the film’s release date, threatening to sue. He has stated that what set out to be an honest portrayal of Amy's life is in fact "misleading" and "contains some basic untruths".

So, what went wrong...

Well, nothing went wrong - in fact the film's ratings soared and it has received wide positive acclaim from critics. On Rotten tomatoes the film has a 97% rating based on 144 reviews so far. It broke the UK box office record for the highest opening weekend of a British documentary film, grossing £519,000 from 133 cinemas three days after since its release on the 3rd July. Music producer Mark Ronson, who worked with Amy, cast a favourable verdict, saying that the film was 'respectful' to the late singer. Yet Mitch Winehouse said he 'wouldn't stand' for the way in which the movie had been cut.


Might he have a point? Speaking on This Morning, Mitch refers to a scene in the film where he's filmed in his cab saying 'Amy didn't need to go to rehab'. He claims that he was actually talking situationally – meaning that Amy didn't need rehab at that point in time. 'Of course', he acknowledges, 'Amy needed to go to rehab!' - just at other points in her life. The context of his quote is removed entirely. This is a clear example of how clever editing can only give us half truths; and it seems that Mitch might have been cruelly misrepresented.


The production team created three versions of the film from the same footage, and each version was edited differently to portray a different spin on Amy's story. Mitch Winehouse has said that the first version was so misrepresentative that he almost wished they had used it so people would realise the extent of deception at play. Now he, alongside Reg Traviss (Amy’s most recent boyfriend), hopes to create his own documentary by interviewing the exact same people. The aim - to highlight how selective Kapadia's documentary really is.

Have we been lied to?

Speaking at the movie premiere producer James Gay-Rees said, 'they didn't go in with any agenda' when making the film, only to uncover the truth. How can Amy's family claim that the film is inaccurate when it only uses real footage of Amy? No actors, no reconstructions.


This is where the power of editing comes into play. The way in which the clips were chosen, used, sequenced and edited portrayed Amy in a particular light. Kapadia says they 'spoke to over 100 people, we saw a lot of material and a lot of footage' and firmly believes that the film is an 'honest representation of what we felt was going on around Amy'. According to Kapadia, they had a whole wall covered in post-it notes and inter-connecting lines joining them in an attempt to connect the dots and piece together the real story behind the Amy enigma. It was these efforts that persuaded Nick Shymansky, the music manager who discovered Amy, that the documentary was being taken seriously - and so he allowed himself to be interviewed.


Kapadia, so convinced that his extensive research has uncovered the Amy enigma, claims “There’s a point in the process where you can start correcting your interviewees because you know the story now. I know it,” A bold claim. So who do we believe: father or director? Perhaps the film portrays the real Winehouse - just a different version from the one that her family, management, friends and fans believed in, or want to believe in.

The Power of the Editor

This film, if anything, demonstrates that the power of persuasion, or storytelling, is not down to the interviewers, interviewees, or the raw honest footage - but down to the people that piece it together: the editors. Bearing in mind, the edit job for this film took a staggering 20 months… not an insignificant role. 


The question remains - can a documentary ever be the vessel for absolute truth? The fact is that any documentary, as an inherently human construct, will always be biased… even when made with the very best intentions.




What are your thoughts on Amy? Let us know in the comments.


See the trailer for Amy here:

See Mitch Winehouse's interview with This Morning here:



Posted by Catherine H on 24th July 2015
Category: Review

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