Film Reviews / Music

Janis: Little Girl Blue review [Sydney ’16]

joplin-janis-520f26672a574Janis: Little Girl Blue is a fascinating, poignant documentary that takes us through Janis Joplin‘s evolution from her small hometown in Texas to her becoming a music icon, despite her untimely death from an overdose at 27 years of age. Directed by Amy Berg, the film has taken the rare letters that Joplin wrote over the years to her friends, family and musicians to create an insightful and certainly saddening portrayal of a pioneering artist at the peak of her powers. Narrated by musician Cat Power, she reads the letters with the same vocal tone as Joplin and it works wonderfully, connecting the spirit of Janis to the visuals and also telling the true life story.

In recent years, astute documentarians have been able to dive into the world of some of the most iconic and influential musicians and people of our modern times: Janis: Little Girl Blue is no exception. Berg has chosen to use archival footage of Joplin at gigs, during recorded sessions and in her day-to-day life as she was part of an stirring scene of original music in that era. Just as importantly her unique, intense, singing ability also made Janis stand out from the crowd and when you couple that with a strong heart-on-her-sleeve personality, she was born to perform.

The real resonating factor behind Janis is how many people she positively effected in her lifetime but, rather sadly, she was also forever fighting her own demons. Never completely satisfied, despite praise from peers and critics, she was obsessed by being a disappointment to her family even though, once again, it was in her head. It’s clear that Janis was full of self-doubt and so as a creative soul was overwhelmingly delicate in mind. Her era also saw a more free availability of drug use and so she flipped frequently between high and low with a growing addiction to heroin.

After the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 threw her into the spotlight that she’d always been craving, Janis took her blues and encapsulated it within rock and roll to create a fresh, original sound that was amplified by her powerful voice and presence. As times went on, things got better and better as she moved up the record labels with her band Big Brother and the Holding Company until their album went gold. She was on top of the world. Contrastingly though, every strong positive kept leading to a negative and so while she revelled in the natural high, the downtime still led to depression and a return to heroin use. It was clear her flip between being clear-headed and heavy drug use was getting more frequent and becoming quite troubling.

Janis: Little Girl Blue offers up a unique understanding of a striking talent with a tragic outcome. She achieved so much in her music career in such a short time but due to demons beyond her understanding, the pressure of always wanting more was unintentionally going to end badly. The film features interviews with friends, ex-lovers and family who all offer their individual look at her life, each of these is interesting and nothing less than personal and heartfelt. Saying that, this isn’t a disheartening documentary at all because it’s also full of the life that Janis Joplin had and offered to those around her, which should be celebrated. Profoundly heart-breaking and equally fascinating, it truly captures and highlights her unique, captivating persona.

Janis: Little Girl Blue is currently playing at the Sydney Film Festival.

Janis: Little Girl Blue is now available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK. Order your copy directly from Dogwoof here.

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