Janis: Little Girl Blue

This documentary of Janis Joplin follows on from the excellent Amy last year. Not only is it similar in style, but the stories are depressingly similar too. Both of them try to suggest that the death of their stars occurred just as they were getting their lives on track, but it’s the seeming inevitability of both that is more tragic. Documentaries such as this often struggle to find sufficient material to sustain a narrative, and resort to interview snippets with the same four or five people. Janis skilfully interweaves archive footage, interviews, and letters (narrated by Cat Power) to make a seamless film that could almost have been created in the moment.
In our generally accepting society it is difficult to appreciate just how oppressive the culture was for a different girl in Texas. Joplin grew up in a town with an active KKK chapter FFS. I’m somewhat wary of the psychology 101 that is played in retrospect in such documentaries, but the use of Joplin’s own letters creates a compelling case here. A drawing with “this is a pretty girl” annotated next to it, or when some douchebags vote her most ugly, it is not difficult to then understand both the abandon she felt when she discovered acceptance in the counter culture, but also the howl of rage that defined her vocals.
Joplin herself comes across as erudite, reflective, caring and confused in her letters. “I wanna be happy so fucking bad” she writes, and the film helps the audience appreciate the pain in those words. Little Girl Blue is a fine addition to the intelligent rockumentaries that are neither hatchet jobs or fan eulogies.

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