Crafting a documentary about Amy Winehouse presents something of a challenge, since one of the main things that drove her over the edge was excessive, obsessive media scrutiny. It’s even harder in that much of the so-called liberal media, media that was initially quite sympathetic and respectful, turned on her in the end as well, with a viciousness and cruelty that is partly the subject of Amy, Asif Kapadia’s incredible documentary. From that perspective, the most appropriate way to make a film about the late great soul singer – short of not making a film at all – would seem to be to divest it of images entirely, perhaps focusing exclusively upon conversations with her friends, family and colleagues. So it’s a bit surprising, initially, when Kapadia goes in the opposite direction, compiling a film out of almost nothing but footage of Winehouse. Although the film is narrated by a vast ensemble of friends, family and colleagues, they’re relegated to voiceovers – we never see them in the present, and don’t even see some of them in the archival footage – which means that the focus, visually, is squarely on Winehouse, with barely a frame going by that doesn’t have her in it. As might be expected, a great deal of the footage is taken from concerts, live appearances, interviews and, occasionally, what appears to be paparazzi sources. However, the overall feel and tone of the film manages to be quite anti-paparazzi, even as Kapadia seems to get closer to Winehouse’s life and career than even the most dedicated and unscrupulous paparazzo. In part, that’s because the official and promotional footage is actually secondary to the home movies that Winehouse and her circle of friends and acquaintances started making from their early teens, wielding their digital camcorders like proto-SmartPhones, as they conducted their own mock-interviews and mockumentaries about their emerging lives and careers. Even as Winehouse skyrocketed to success on the back of Frank and Back to Black, she never seemed to stop mediating her friendships in this way, which provides Kapadia with an enormous wealth of material to draw upon, with the film ending just as it seems like the transition to a SmartPhone would have been the logical next step. In that sense, it plays more as a collection of home movies than a documentary per se – albeit a beautifully collated, curated and compiled collection of home movies, as Kapadia seems to know just when to cut, pause or slow down the footage to get a sense of Winehouse’s mercuriality, the utter lack of entitlement to fame or talent that rendered her so diminutive, vulnerable and unique. Like the most resonant home movies too, the footage is so incidental, incomplete and forgettable, that it seems to preserve Winehouse’s privacy even or especially as we get closer and closer to her, until she feels as immune to scrutiny as she might actually have felt in person, or at least at the kind of small-scale, jazz-club gigs she preferred the most. Immersing yourself in all the tics and nuances of her footage, then, is a bit like immersing yourself in all the tics and nuances of her voice – it seems to undo, moment by moment, her media image – until the film feels a bit like an accompaniment to the albums, or a sustained music video, a way of staying true to the mercurial music that made up her life.