‘Amy’: Winehouse film is latest musician documentary to strike a chord

‘Amy’ | 2015

“Amy” offers an intimate, unflinching gaze into the life of singer Amy Winehouse, exposing the perils of celebrity and addiction and how Winehouse fed off the two. 


“Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s new documentary about the late soul singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, is hitting all the right notes with movie critics. Buzzed about since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the A24 release is being hailed as an incisive, empathetic portrait of a troubled artist and the world she lived in.

As the film opens in Los Angeles in New York on Friday and expands nationwide next week, it arrives amid a mini-boom of well-regarded documentaries training their lenses on musicians.

In April, Brett Morgen’s “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” illuminated the different sides of the late Nirvana front man, drawing on material unearthed over eight years via unprecedented access to the Cobain family’s archives. The film has earned excellent reviews.

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Last week, Netflix unveiled Liz Garbus’ “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” a chronicle of the turbulent life of soul singer and activist Nina Simone, to fine notices. Executive produced by Simone’s only child, Lisa Simone Kelly, “Miss Simone” too features extensive archival performance footage and interviews with key figures in its subject’s life.

While “Montage” aired on HBO and “Miss Simone” is a Netflix release, both films had limited theatrical runs, making them eligible for awards consideration (along with “Amy”). Musician-driven documentaries have fared well at the Oscars in recent years, with “Searching for Sugar Man” winning the documentary prize in 2013 and “Twenty Feet From Stardom” doing so in 2014.

As the aforementioned films demonstrate, musicians are often ideal documentary subjects: They’re charismatic and well documented, their lives and careers tend to have a clear arc, and the soundtrack is ready-made.

(Despite also benefiting from those elements, the biopic genre has been a mixed bag of late, with films like “Get On Up,” “Jimi” and “Jersey Boys” underwhelming somewhat. Perhaps “Straight Outta Compton” will buck the trend.)


In any case, the output of musician documentaries doesn’t look to be slowing any time soon. Ron Howard, for example, is directing a documentary about the Beatles focused on their touring years, and Martin Scorsese is producing a documentary about the Grateful Dead.

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