Janis: Little Girl Blue is an intimate documentary about the tragically short life of the titular singer Janis Joplin.
For anyone coming to the work of Joplin cold the movie is a good introduction to her music and unique vocal style – someone who’s folk, blues and rock combination was at the popular centre of the counter cultural revolution in the late 1960s. The film takes it’s material cue from a large amount of previously unseen and unheard interviews and contemporary footage of Janis and her band mates from the band Big Brother in the studio and on tour.
What’s clear from the documentary is that although Joplin was publicly a bold and unashamed personality who carried on with a defiance her fans loved, she was also a quiet and introspective person riddled with self-doubt. Janis Joplin’s self-medication became her undoing, causing her death at just 27 years old. The film looks at how that happened, from her upbringing in a staid and sensible Texas, to the San Franciscan music community which embraced her.
Unlike several of her fellow performers for all of her drug taking and drinking for the most part she was a resolute professional. While other rock-stars were debauched and out of it on stage friends and band members explain she didn’t take any heroin until after she’d performed. It was all about performance. But still she took it, openly. Her open sexuality and bombast in life and performance shielded a great deal of insecurity – documents and letters home to her family (narrated by Cat Power) give a new view of a complex and fragile personality.
What lifts this documentary above usual biographical examinations is the amount of previously unseen archive footage. Combine that with interviews with friends, family and old band members and you’re left with a fresh albeit fairly straight-forward look at a brief but influential life.
Janis: Little Girl Blue is out on DVD from Monday 9th May.