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 For his documentary, Asif Kapadia has pieced together singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse’s life using home videos, candid footage, personal recordings, cellphone videos and paparazzi shots, which lends such a powerful intimacy to the film that you feel as though you’re living it with her — along with all her addictions. It’s like walking next to a ticking time bomb, as we see her grow up too fast and hurtle from bulimia to fame to a love affair that introduces her to crack cocaine and heroin. It’s practically a moment-to-moment reckoning of her surging success and long tumble into addiction and ruin.

True to the classic rockstar biopic, there’s a destructive love story too, between Winehouse and her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil. “I fell in love with someone I could die for. And that’s a real drug, innit?” she says in the film. There are photos of Winehouse doing a cocktail of drugs and alcohol — heroin on silver foil, smeared mascara, cut up and bloodied because she “wanted to be on the same plane” as husband Fielder-Civil, fearing if she didn’t then, “he would here and she, there.”

One of the most beautiful moments in the documentary is of Winehouse recording a duet with Tony Bennett, one of her childhood idols. It was one of her last times in a recording studio. You see a visibly nervous Winehouse struggling through the session. But Bennett is gentle and calming, and that softness brings out Winehouse’s ability to fill words with visceral emotion. He tells her when they’re done that he’s like her in the way they think about singing. She shakes her head and says, “I’m like you. You’re not like me. I’m like you.”

Late in her brief life, Winehouse tried a comeback tour, and Kapadia has footage of her onstage at an outdoor concert in Serbia, sitting on the speakers, half in the bag, and refusing to sing. The crowd laughs, chants, turns ugly, and Winehouse gazes back at them with a mysterious half-smile. It’s as though she had become a Bartleby of rock ’n’ roll: the star who preferred not to.

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...