DVD: Janis – Little Girl Blue (2015)

June 8, 2016 | By

JanisLittleGirlBlueFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  FilmRise / MVD Visual

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  May 6, 2016

Genre:  Documentary / Biography / Music

Synopsis: Vivid chronicle of the iconoclastic Janis Joplin, using rare film clips, stills, home movies, and interviews with colleagues, friends, and family members.

Special Features:  4 Deleted and extended scenes – “Avalon vs. The Fillmore” (3:57) + “Big Brother Singing Acapella” (1:22) +  “Influences” (5:32) + “Walk of Fame Ceremony” (4:06).




Amy Berg’s documentary feels like the long-delayed follow-up and clarification to Howard Aulk’s 1974 Janis, essentially a tribute film neatly edited from pre-existing interviews and live performances. Berg’s film has the benefit of hindsight – an aspect wholly absent in 1974, in spite of being released 4 years after Janis Joplin’s sudden death from a drug overdose at 27.

Janis: Little Girl Blue also acknowledges quite clearly Joplin’s ongoing struggles with drugs and alcohol, but it also clarifies likely reasons for the substance usage: besides being in vogue and part of the music scene, heroine and alcohol helped Joplin come down from the incredible high of a live performance, or as she described it, ‘making love to millions, but going home alone.’

There’s an extended interview with Alecia Moore / Pink in a deleted segment of contemporary artists reflecting on Joplin’s rule-breaking status as a female rock star, a sexual creature beholden to no one, and a fierce independent mind who put every ounce of her atoms into performing. Moore essentially reiterates Joplin’s take on going home alone, adding both poignancy and the reality of the job – after experiencing such a high in a stadium, you get onto an empty bus, and you sit at a table where they’ve left a bottle of wine and a lighted candle to come down, and you get ready to do it again, the next day.

Joplin’s career is an extraordinary tale of ‘the ugliest man on campus’ who took all the severe bullying and tormenting from her childhood and teen life, the complex relationship with her parents, and being vulnerable to other people’s emotional sensitivities, and organizing that hurt into one voice which, over time, would’ve become more extraordinary. Her last producer on the posthumously album Pearl taught her to think differently about the future: instead of retiring in Santa Monica to run a bar when her voice craps out for good, recognize and develop the specific and unique shades of her voice, and parlay that into the best work of her career twenty years later.

That is the greatest tragedy that viewers see coming in the doc’s half hour: if the year 1970 alone were reflective of the quality and quantity of produced and released work live and in studio, the art that followed would’ve been extraordinary.

Berg’s film exploits similar concert footage from Monterey Pop (1968), Woodstock (1970), and Festival Express (2003), plus appearances on The Dick Cavett Show (1970), as well as colour footage from D.A. Pennebaker’s in studio recording of “Summertime,” and there’s the same news scrum footage from her high school reunion that proved to be an emotional disaster, but new are present day interviews with sister Laura and brother Michael; childhood friends and former lovers, Big Brother musicians Dave Getz and Peter Albin; and former managers.

If there’s a single dominant tone in JLGB, it’s loss, and there are few visages who don’t drain into masks of head-shaking sadness. Director Berg also interpolates elements wholly absent from Alk’s 1974 film to create counterpoints between interviews and performances: former lover Dave Niehaus recalling his decision to break-up after she couldn’t constrain her heroin use, and Joplin singing about their romance at a Canadian concert; and Kris Kristofferson reflecting on his surprise, awe, and the inherent sadness of hearing Joplin’s rendition of his song “Me and Bobby McGee” only after she’s died.

Berg doesn’t break any new ground in JLGB – it’s a well-produced documentary co-produced by PBS for their American Masters series – but she organizes the material and their emotional content into a steady narrative that lives up to the film’s title of a little girl with a huge voice, perpetually blue, and unable to wrangle and quell inner demons.

The DVD from FilmRise / MVD Visual includes a handful of deleted segments that clearly didn’t fit the doc’s solid structure, but sit well on their own. A short acapella moment with the Big Brother members is cute, but there’s more meat in the anecdotes that detail subjective differences between the Filmore and Avalon concert halls – former big band dance halls that became important performance venues for newcomers. (Detroit’s own Grande ballroom, where Joplin also performed, was profiled in an excellent 2012 doc Louder than Love.)

Also in the deleted scenes gallery is label exec Clive Davis giving a touching speech at the unveiling of Joplin’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a slightly meandering series of interviews that have Moore, Melissa Ethridge, Cat Power / Chan Marshall (who reads from Joplin’s scrapbook and letters in the doc), and actress Juliette Lewis describing her impact. (Smaller extracts from these interviews were ultimately used in the film’s End Credits.)

Janis: Little Girl Blue also exists on Blu-ray and as a Special Director’s Edition.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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