Sunday, November 29, 2015

“Janis: Little Girl Blue”– Movie Review



This week, I attended the opening night screening at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center for the new documentary, “Janis:  Little Girl Blue”, about the life of singer Janis Joplin.


When Janis Joplin comes on the scene as a popular new singer in the 1960’s, can she overcome her own personal insecurities after finding success?


Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1943.  She was too big a personality for a town as small as this, so when she grew up, she moved to the bigger city of Austin, where she was introduced to its explosive music scene.  Exhilarated by what she found and having tried her hand at music herself a few years earlier, she decided to become one of the musicians in town.  A local band, Big Brother, was looking for a singer; once Janis was introduced to the band and they heard her sing, Big Brother immediately realized that they had finally found their lead singer. 

With a booming music business in California, Janis and the band moved to the northern part of the state; once club owners heard Janis during the auditions, they quickly started getting gigs.  Gaining a reputation around the area, they were invited to play at a big concert in Monterey; a documentary filmmaker was recording the various artists who performed (“Monterey Pop”) and they asked Janis and the band if they would appear in the film.  Since they weren’t getting paid for the appearance, they declined; however, because they’d been so well-received when they originally played, they were asked to play a second set.  It was at that time they reconsidered the filmmaker’s offer; when the movie was released, everyone knew about Janis and what had now become Big Brother And The Holding Company (BBHC) and their career took off.

Soon, they were appearing on television shows, playing bigger concerts and enjoying extraordinary record sales.  While Janis got a kick out of the success, she was still unhappy.  Over time, she had casual affairs with various people (The Grateful Dead’s Pig Pen being one of the more notable), but was never able to find her one true love – although she did expand her search by hooking up with women occasionally.  Having abused alcohol for quite some time, Janis eventually got turned on to heroin and began doing them in tandem.  Her drug abuse increased and she eventually died of an overdose at the age of 27 in October of 1970. 


Bluntly, while Janis Joplin may have been a dream to listen to, she was a nightmare to look at.  To say that the legendary singer had unconventional looks might not only be a diplomatic statement, but also, one which you might be hard-pressed to say with a straight face.  It is no wonder, then, that she was once cruelly voted The Ugliest Man In Austin, Texas.  With her singing talent, she overcame the detractors who made her life miserable and wound up with her fair share of male (and female) admirers.  In the end, however, Janis Joplin’s tragedy was not merely that she died of a drug overdose at such a young age, but also the fact that she could never be loved enough to compensate for those who shunned her in high school.

The amount of research director Amy Berg conducted in order to assemble this work is nothing short of stunning.  Her documentary not only includes film clips of old interviews (which you’d pretty much expect) but also, interviews with people who knew Joplin back in the day – namely, The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, television personality Dick Cavett and Janis’ younger siblings.  Additionally, Berg uncovered not only a collection of Joplin’s personal photographs but also quite a few rather eloquently written letters to her family and friends.  If there is one criticism of the film it is the ending; over the credits, there are some quick interviews with people who were Joplin fans (such as the singer Pink and actress Juliette Lewis), which are rather hit-or-miss and add little to the overall movie – especially when you consider they appear to have been tacked on at the end, almost as an afterthought. 

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with Berg and Cavett, who basically seemed to hijack the thing, apparently appreciative for the attention.  Cavett played it cagey when it came to whether or not he actually had an affair with Joplin; she was on his television talk show a number of times in the late 1960’s and they had quite a rapport.  Berg said that there was a considerable amount of footage which she wanted to use in the documentary, but it was eventually cut because given her budget, it would’ve been too cost prohibitive to obtain clearance rights.  In addition to the usual trailer, a portion of one of Joplin’s appearances on Cavett’s show is below. 

Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015) on IMDb

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