Janis: Little Girl Blue


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Janis Joplin
"The director has uncovered a wealth of archive material."

This fascinating patchwork of a documentary attempts to pin down the life, times and true personality of the legendary Sixties singer Janis Joplin - partly through her own letters, voiced beautifully by Cat Power.

Despite her brief sojourn on the planet (she self-destructed at the age of 27 after seemingly getting her life back on her course) there is wealth of accumulated material for the filmmaker to draw on.

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Berg had the full co-operation of the singer’s estate including her younger siblings Laura and Michael, who provide revealing insights straight to camera but it is Power’s narrative voice that binds it all together.

She is revealed as a product of the counter-culture of those heady times of Monterey and Woodstock, who is determined to follow her own liberal values despite her conservative upbringing at the family home in Port Arthur, Texas - a bleak-looking place of industrial wastelands and rail tracks.

Despite her gutsy exterior she has a need for love and validation from her musical peers, fans and the media who find her brash and frequently unguarded comments offer fertile territory for misinterpretation.

Although she loved to get dressed up both offstage and on in feathers, furs and velvet with a surfeit of necklaces and head-dresses, part of her longed to be a more conventional looking girl - the kind she saw in magazines. At one point her sister observes: “Janis often watched the guys in the bands go home with gorgeous girls while frequently she found herself alone.”

She was also ostracised at school for her views and looks as well as her espousal of such causes as integration. Such conflicts helped to fuel her on-off drug habit. Music, of course, provided the ultimate escape and gave her a sense of empowerment she lacked elsewhere in her life.

The director has uncovered a wealth of archive material including TV show interviews, San Francisco in the Haight-Ashbury era, on tour around the world including London’s normally sedate Albert Hall erupting with dancing in the aisles.

The various men and women in her life waft in and out, among them David Niehaus, a fellow free spirt whom she meets in Brazil but who moves, depriving her of what could have been a mutually beneficial relationship and the influential Peggy Casserta, who encourages her substance habit. There is a revealing appearance by Kris Kristofferson recalling the making of her biggest selling single Me And Bobby McGee and how she made the song her own.

The documentary has been deftly put together by Berg and her editors and while it may break no new ground in terms of delivery it lets its subject speaking for herself.

Reviewed on: 08 Sep 2015
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Janis: Little Girl Blue packshot
Documentary following the main stages of Janis Joplin’s life.
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Director: Amy Berg

Starring: Cat Power

Year: 2015

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US

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