DVD Review: Janis: Little Girl Blue

JanisDVDSTUDIO: MVD | DIRECTOR: Amy J. Berg
RELEASE DATE: 5/6/16 | PRICE: DVD $19.95
BONUSES: deleted and extended scenes
SPECS: NR | 108 min. | Documentary | 1.33:1 widescreen | 5.1 Surround

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Lots of hopeful singers on shows like The Voice and The X Factor and belt out heartfelt Janis Joplin covers, which always leaves me wondering what the judges of such shows—from Simon Cowell to Gwen Stefani—would have thought of the lady herself. In today’s pre-packaged, videogenic music industry, would Joplin be booted in the early weeks and relegated to roadhouses and blues festivals? Or would the people fall prey to the undeniable power of Joplin, a primal musical force who, nearly forty-five years after her death, remains peerless?

LittleGirlBlue1_optThe power is on full display in Amy Berg’s new biographical documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue, which follows Joplin from her childhood and unhappy early years in East Texas (where she was once voted “Ugliest Man on Campus” by a University of Texas fraternity) through her growth as a blues singer (with influences ranging from Odetta and Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding) and rise as a San Francisco transplant during the city’s hippie heyday, up to her meteoric success with Big Brother and The Holding Company and as a solo artist, ending with her death from a heroin overdose at the ridiculous age of 27.

Filled with wall-to-wall performance and interview footage and stills—some is standard stock material and other has never-before-been-seen—Little Girl Blue is glued together with a series of letters that Joplin wrote to her family and friends over the years. Read in a gently husky voiceover by musician Cat Power, the many letters reveal Joplin to be an intelligent, articulate, honest and highly emotional soul, albeit a very troubled and sad one. Joplin’s correspondence mirrors her career, which found her losing her direction as she progressed through several bands and albums, and personal life, which saw her band mates hooking up after gigs while she was all pumped but all alone.

Little Girl Blue is not unlike Amy, Asif Kapadia’s recent portrait of Amy Winehouse (who also died at 27) in that both women, respected as artists and voices of their day, were overwhelmed by the lives they led. But unlike Winehouse, who contended with the paparazzi and faux friends and a demanding music industry, as well as her own personal problems, Joplin’s demons appear to have emanated solely from inside her own troubled and sensitive head.

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.