With her distinctive beehive hairdo, thick eyeliner and deep, soulful vocal delivery, Amy Winehouse became a defiantly outspoken icon for a generation, who exorcised personal demons through her emotionally raw lyrics.
Her death in July 2011, at the same age as Jimi Hendrix,
Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, sparked a period of national soul-searching.
Asif Kapadia’s deeply moving documentary charts the turbulent life of the songbird, including contributions from many of her friends and family, and some of the people who worked with her and were touched by her fragility and candour.
Unfolding largely in chronological order, Amy begins with home video footage of a good friend’s 14th birthday and meticulously charts her rise to celebrity, incorporating performances, interviews, rare photographs and reminiscences from people who knew her well.
“If I really thought I was famous, I’d top myself,” Winehouse tells one journalist early in the film, her words casting a shadow over subsequent scenes of triumph as her debut album, Frank, leaves critics reaching for superlatives and she storms America with the follow-up, Back To Black, earning five Grammy awards including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
The film doesn’t pull punches with its depiction of her battles with drug and alcohol addiction, posing difficult questions about the culpability of the media and some of her inner circle in her tragic downfall.
This elegantly composed memento mori leaves us with a deep sense of sadness and anger as we watch the singer totter towards oblivion, seemingly with no one to shepherd her away from the edge.
SLOW WEST (15)
Fresh-faced 17-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journeys across the dustbowl of 1870s Colorado in search of his sweetheart. In a mosaic of flashbacks, we discover that the impressionable young man pursued a Highland fling with peasant’s daughter Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). She tried in vain to douse Jay’s ardour, informing him: “You’re the little brother I never had.”
Rose and her father (Rory McCann) departed for foreign climes and now lovesick whelp Jay is on their trail, determined to woo the object of his unrequited affections. Jay is poorly equipped to survive the brutality of the frontier west, where cigar-chewing outlaws like Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) roam with murderous intent.
The teenager crosses paths with a world-weary bounty hunter called Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who proposes to chaperone Jay for a fee. The two loners form a tender yet fragile bond as they trot through a series of misadventures.
Slow West is a classic coming-of-age drama and a stylish western shot on location in New Zealand, which marks an impressive directorial debut for John Maclean, one-time DJ and sampler with The Beta Band. Smit-McPhee brings an appealing innocence to his stargazing dreamer, who learns harsh lessons about placing trust in strangers. In stark contrast, Fassbender swaggers with ominous intent, shrouding his character in ambiguity so we are never entirely sure of his allegiances until a barnstorming final reckoning.
Maclean’s lean script, which gallops to just 84 minutes, won’t leave viewers feeling saddle sore and the writer-director confidently orchestrates shootouts that culminate in a double-digit body count.