There comes a point when one has to throw up one's hands and declare, "I just don't get it". And here's me, and here's director Asif Kapadia, and I just don't get it. His widely-celebrated 2010 documentary Senna was on a subject that I hold personally dear - Formula 1 racing - and I could barely scrounge up any interest. His new film, Amy, is even more celebrated, and now that the subject is one I'm not attached to at all - the life and decline and tragic, drawn-out, heavily foreshadowed death of Amy Winehouse - I'm disengaged from it entirely. It exists. It uses editing techniques effectively. I think it is fair to describe it as a "movie".

It's also tawdry as a motherfucker, deciding right from the onset that the really important thing about Winehouse was how she died at a disturbingly young age due to the effects of non-stop drug use. It is the perfect documentary for an age of leering, intrusive celebrity culture, and enthusiastic, gossipy prurience masquerading behind a sad-faced mask of "oh how tragic". Watching it made me feel like I'd been covered in a light misting of sewage, without even digging into the issue noted by Glenn Dunks, my colleague at the Film Experience, that this is a posthumous violation of Winehouse's privacy that she would have certainly resented.

So anyway, we have here a film that is fixated on its gloomy endpoint, and allows that to overshadow absolutely every little moment that it depicts. So that's problem #1. Problem #2 is that Kapadia's aesthetic, here as in Senna, is something of a fake-out: he famously uses only stock footage, resulting in films that are a combination of montage and archive, with new audio recordings layered over them. Structurally, it's still just a talking-heads documentary, it just happens to lack actual talking heads. Innovative it's not, and the combination of footage and sound is frequently arbitrary, like he's so committed to the "only stock footage" game that he just wants to find anything that's not images of his subjects talking. It probably doesn't help matters that I saw Amy literally within hours of watching Esfir Shub's rhetorically masterful The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty from 1927, the film that invented and then perfected the genre of documentaries constructed entirely from archival footage. These unfortunate coincidences sometimes just happen.

The good news about Amy, since it has to have some, is that the footage Kapadia and editor Chris King have assembled for our delectation is generally interesting, and frequently astonishing and insightful. Particularly in the early going, when we're still seeing Winehouse in the early, uncertain part of her career. The raw force of her musical performances, even in the most casual, crude settings, is captivating, even with the distracting, thoroughly unnecessary addition of onscreen lyrics. Amy makes the argument for Winehouse as an inherently powerful, magnetic performer extremely well, though arguably through no fault of its own. Its overriding need to also make her out to be a broken down tragic figure goes much worse for it, however, and the film is much more of a tasteless eulogy than a legitimate tribute.