“Janis: Little Girl Blue”
Directed by Amy J. Berg
This new documentary, from the director of the fabulous Oscar-nommed ‘West of Memphis”, has been compared by everyone, it seems, to another recent documentary about another iconic female singer who also died too soon due to an overdose; the soon-to-be nominated “Amy”, the Amy Winehouse story. And there are, quite obviously, many similarities in the narratives…mainly that our previous impressions of both as the drug- and alcohol-addled train-wrecks they were portrayed as, is wildly incorrect. However, where “Amy” succeeds as a film for both fans and non-fans alike, “Janis” doesn’t quite get you there.
Full disclosure, I’ve never been a Joplin fan. Not because I didn’t recognize her talent…there was never any denying that…but because I was already quite sick of hearing her music by the time I began to establish my own musical tastes. It just sounded so old-fashioned…like The Doors and The Dead. I just rolled my eyes whenever someone else would tell me how important she was. And by the time I was in tenth grade in 1979, if I heard “Me and Bobby McGee” one more time I was going to pierce my own eardrums! So my big hope going in to this screening was that my eyes and ears would be re-opened to the nature of this woman’s gift – which is exactly what happened after viewing “Amy”. In fact, after viewing that film, I immediately downloaded all of Ms. Winehouse’s music and listened with an entirely new appreciation and understanding.
The first act starts out well enough, explaining the incidents in her youth that led to her sound and story…incredibly intriguing and empathy-inducing stuff. But by the second act, it becomes quite clear that we are on a chronological ride…with almost no reference back to those earlier days. So, unlike “Amy” which uses her addiction-based-writing skills to fill in the negative space, by the end of this film, we’re simply left with lots of music and very little context. I couldn’t even tell you the reason for the title.
The talking heads are interesting enough, ESPECIALLY Dick Cavett. I’d LOVE to see someone do a doc about him. And Bob Weir is pretty brilliant. But it just kinda falls flat, especially as the director, for some reason, continues to return to a visual image of a moving train…over and over…with no explanation. I’m sure it’s meant to be symbolic, but of what, I’m not quite sure.
So, to sum up…if you like Janis Joplin’s music, or are a Dead-head, or post-modern child of the Sixties (or actual child of the Sixties), you’ll enjoy it immensely. If not, couldn’t hurt, but, sad to say, I think she deserved a better treatment than this.