Picturehouse Marketing Executive Kiri Inglis takes a look at this week’s Discover Tuesdays film Janis: Little Girl Blue
Janis: Little Girl Blue (15)
Director: Amy Berg.
Featuring: Janis Joplin. USA 2015. 104 mins.
Amy J. Berg’s portrait of iconic blues singer Janis Joplin is a heartfelt study of one of the most singular voices of the 20th century. The film charts Joplin’s steady ascent and eventual extinguishing through her short but incendiary career.
Atlanta-born musician Cat Power’s lilting tones provide first-person narration in the form of the letters Joplin sent home. Archive footage from the artist’s key performances, including the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, is interwoven with snapshots from the family album and testimonials from those who loved and revered her.
Berg builds up a vista of the musical, social and political history that gave rise to Joplin’s vocal style. We follow her trajectory from high-school beatnik, outcast in heavily industrial Texas, to Austin bluegrass upstart, to soulful rock and blues icon of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. She absorbed the best of her influences – Bessie Smith, Odetta, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding – and wowed contemporaries with unapologetically visceral performances.
In an interview clip with talk-show host and friend Dick Cavett, she intones: “I’m not really thinking much, just, sort of, trying to feel.”
This is something you come to believe of Joplin as the film unfolds. Berg shows the artist’s inexorable appetite for music, and for stimulation in all forms, including touring, her lovers and a fervent desire for drink and drugs.
The film captures the ‘60s zeitgeist and presents Joplin as the poster child that she was for her generation. We witness her rejection of small-town ideas that included segregation, the prom-mentality and limited notions of femininity.
We follow her journey though her time with Big Brother And The Holding Company, and the soaring success of her solo career. We’re taken on a tour that starts in the suburbs of her hometown, Port Arthur, and finishes up at the Rio Carnival, gaining insight into her personal landscape along the way.
Friends, family and band members recount the experience of watching her heed the call of rock and roll excess and the notoriety that still endures. But Berg more than succeeds in showing Janis’s humanity beyond the glamour. As a childhood friend affirmed: “She couldn’t figure out how to make herself like everybody else, thank goodness.”
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