Janis Little Girl Blue
directed and written by Amy Berg
Although her time in the public eye was brief- she recorded her first sides with Big Brother in 1966, and died in 1970- Janis Joplin became an icon of the ’60s with her earthy, take no prisoners blues style and electrifying live performances. Behind a microphone she was in command, adored and worshiped. But as Little Girl Blue shows us, all too well, that the time off-stage couldn’t compete, and Janis lived a life of self-doubt, insecurity and depression, which led her to self-medicate, ultimately ending her life with an overdose. But in those few years she crafted a legacy that is still inspiring others- such as Chan Marshall (Cat Power) who narrates the film. Without Janis’ “full tilt boogie” one can’t imagine a woman leading a rock band in the same way, and her style, built upon the love of older blues singers such as Bessie Smith set to full-bore rock, has never been equaled.
Joplin grew up in the town of Port Arthur, Texas, and her early life wasn’t pretty- and as soon as possible, she left for California to chase her dream. Three years later she was back home, miserable, trying to wean herself from shooting speed. But the glimpse of the San Francisco life, with the advent of the hippie movement called her back, and the rest, as they say, is history. The movie features interviews with her band-mates in Big Brother such as Sam Andrew, fellow travelers such the Dead’s Bob Weir, close friend Dick Cavett and others, and together they paint a picture of a woman so amazingly talented- and so unsure of herself in equal measure.
But then again, happy people don’t sing the blues, at least not convincingly. Janis Joplin sang from the very depths of her soul, sometimes in anguish, sometimes in lustful abandon, always completely sincere, and she left a body of work that still raises goosebumps today. As Little Girl Blue shows, it came with a heavy cost. But one imagines that even if she had followed her parents wishes of her being a school teacher, Janis wasn’t long for the world. At least she found her voice, and gave herself moments of joy, creation and found acceptance in a world that had treated her so cruelly for most of her life. Janis Joplin made you feel her pain, and in doing so, lessened it for both you and her. A remarkable life, made into a remarkable film. Highly recommended.