“I’ve never been a fan of talking heads. You notice it even in my fiction films. There’s very little dialogue in them. My first feature was a film called The Warrior, and it had just seven minutes of dialogue. My interest in film-making was always very much the visuals and images,” says Asif Kapadia, in a recent interview to Indiewire. The Warrior, starring Irrfan Khan, barely has any dialogue (not that it needs it, as it virtually has no one other than Khan) and is a Rob Fricke-ish visual experience. Is it a tad boring? Yes. Is it unforgettable? That, too. The Warrior won the BAFTA for the Best British Film in 2002 and was the UK’s official entry for the foreign language film category at the Oscars. The Academy turned it down, saying that Hindi was not an indigenous British language — talk about cultural integration. His next features, The Return (2006) and Far North (2007), might not have gotten Kapadia global acclaim (both films were criticised for their extremely slow pace), but he was taken notice of as an engaging visual storyteller. When he did come back with Senna (2012), a documentary on the life and death of Brazilian motor-racing champion Ayrton Senna, the robust quality of Kapadia’s film-making was widely acknowledged and appreciated. Senna won all the top awards at major film festivals, including Sundance and the BAFTA.
And, now we have Amy. Premiered at Cannes last month, Kapadia’s documentary charts Winehouse’s story from her childhood in Southgate, in north London, to her death from alcohol poisoning in 2011. Just like in Senna, he avoids showing his interviewees on screen, instead mixing together audio from new interviews with Winehouse’s parents, childhood friends and her ex-husband with archival footage. This technique of avoiding faces is a sign of Kapadia’s obsession with negating “talking heads” — even in non-fictional documentary setups. “Your job as a director is to have an angle and be strong enough to follow it through. If it doesn’t work, you change it and be strong enough to change it. With Amy, I knew there was a lot of middle and end. I just didn’t know what the beginning would be, and it wasn’t until I met her first manager, who showed me on his laptop this amazing video that he shot when she was young, that I thought, we’ve got a film here.”
Set to Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’, the trailer of the film is haunting, and you almost cannot believe that you are watching a documentary, because you do not know the Amy in this film. She is young, fresh, un-beehived and, most importantly, happy. The trailer takes you on a journey with a doomed end, but you are so mystified by this soft and soothing creature that for some time, you forget what she became — the tragic Norma Jean Baker of British rhythm and blues music.