Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy features never-before-seen footage and over 100 interviews with people from singer Amy Winehouse’s personal and professional life. It is a heartbreaking up-close-and-personal look at a woman who, as Tony Bennett says in the movie, didn’t live long enough to learn how to live.
Kapadia may be best known as the filmmaker behind the BAFTA winning documentary Senna but says, “It’s funny, but I am really a drama guy.”
His docs are structured like feature films. Amy, for instance, plays on a few levels, featuring several dramatic arcs. It’s a cautionary tale of the effects of international stardom. It’s a portrait of drug addiction, exploitation and a woman who looked to men for protection, and chose badly. It’s the story of Amy, a fiercely talented person who laid her heart bare in her art only to have the thing that should have been her saviour, her music, ultimately be her undoing.
When I asked Kapadia if he looked at other music docs before beginning work on Amy he said, “I don’t have references I look to. I just kind of make it up as I’m going along. For example, in the sequence with the paparazzi, I’m thinking of Raging Bull, with flashguns going off. I’m not thinking of a doc where you have someone’s life and then they pick up a guitar and sing.”
Here’s a list of other music bios—some docs, some features—that take a dramatic approach and give a complete look at the personal and creative lives of their subjects.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil: It would be easy to call Anvil a real-life Spinal Tap. The story of the heaviest heavy metal band you’ve never heard of bears a strong resemblance to the legendary fictional band, but it is so much more than that. It is a story of passion, of trying to beat the odds, of friendship, of hope against hope. It’s also quite funny and the music will peel the paint off your home theatre walls.
I’m Not There: It’s an elliptical and metaphoric retelling of Bob Dylan’s life, but none of the characters in it are called Bob Dylan. Most of them don’t look like Dylan, and the one who most looks like Dylan is a woman, played by Cate Blanchett. Yet I felt I knew more about what makes Bob Dylan tick when I left the theatre than I did about Johnny Cash following Walk the Line or Ray Charles after Ray.
Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap: A vibrant look at the art of hip hop, the first documentary from Ice-T profiles the passion of the grandmasters of rap: Afrika Bambaataa, Treach Criss, Doug E. Fresh, KRS-One, Dr. Dre and more. Worth it to hear Snoop Dogg’s (now Snoop Lion) songwriting methodology: “I need to smoke a lot of weed, and have a couple girls there because I like looking at them.”
Get on Up: James Brown was known as many things; The Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Dynamite and The Hardest Working Man in Show Business but he preferred to be called Mr. Brown. His rise from poverty to the top of the R&B charts is brought to life in a knock out performance from Chadwick Boseman, who plays Brown from age 16 to 60.