Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas but had a force of personality that the small town could not contain. Interviews with siblings and childhood friends reveal a young woman in search of far greater freedom, out of step, sometimes devastatingly so, with many of her high school contemporaries. So she headed to San Francisco, the heartland of ‘60s counterculture where she found room for self-expression and the kind of social acceptance she’d long sought. But the freedom brought with it new challenges, and it was here that Janis began her ultimately fatal relationship with drugs.
The film’s innovation is to intersperse concert and interview footage with letters that Janis wrote to her family back home. Read by Chan Marshall (better known as Cat Power), a fellow Southerner who also left her hometown to become a musician, they are glimpses into the workings of Janis’ inner world. It’s to Marshall’s great credit that they feel congruent with the Janis we see elsewhere in the film, exultant in the midst of rapturous performance or nervously self-deprecating at a ten year school reunion.
Berg says of Janis that ‘once onstage, [she] was swept up in a wave of unconditional love that could never quite be duplicated and sustained offstage.’ The film bears this out. Caught up in the frenzy of performance, ripping into ‘Cry Baby’ or ‘Summertime’, she’s a wellspring of energy, but after the lights go out and the last squall of feedback fades, she emerges as a rather more vulnerable figure, pursued by her anxieties.
While an excellent character study, Janis is not without its flaws. As is the case with so many rock documentaries, the talking head sections detract a little from intensity of their subject. Especially with a performer as vivacious as Joplin, the living rooming testimonials, while always heartfelt and often interesting, can only do so much to convey the vivacity with which the singer lived.
Such was Joplin's force of character, though, that it can't really help but come to the fore. So, whether or not you're a fan of her music, it's likely that you'll leave the cinema with a great deal of affection for this most immensely likeable and deeply troubled of talents.
Click here to visit the film's website.
|What||Janis: Little Girl Blue review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
05 Feb 16 – 05 Mar 16, times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to visit the film's website|