03 Dec Janis Joplin, with all her contradictions, in ‘Little Girl Blue’
By Mark Jenkins
December 3 at 10:41 AM
There’s more than a little of Janis Joplin in the character Bette Midler played in 1979’s “The Rose,” but Hollywood has never managed to make a feature about the blues-rock singer. Amy Berg’s “Janis: Little Girl Blue” suggests one reason: Although Joplin’s brief life was eventful, its contradictions would stymie a tidy biopic.
Joplin, the documentary reveals, was a bisexual who longed for a heterosexual marriage. She distrusted drug use, yet kept returning to the heroin that finally killed her at age 27 in 1970. And while she thrived in San Francisco’s venturesome psychedelic-rock scene, Joplin emulated traditional blues and soul performers. She didn’t write the songs that became her biggest hits.
Devotees know all this, and may be disappointed that “Janis” emphasizes the “little girl” over the big-voiced woman. But they’re still likely to be impressed by the research done by Berg (whose previous documentary efforts include “Deliver Us From Evil,” a devastating study of a pederast priest). The director interviewed just about everyone relevant to Joplin’s life story who is still alive. She uses archival footage and Joplin’s letters – read by singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power – to add voices from beyond the grave.
Joplin was “the absolute child-woman ideal of the Haight,” recalls the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, referring to San Francisco’s 1960s hippie ‘hood. She was more grown-up than that, however, when onstage. That’s a paradox “Janis: Little Girl Blue” can’t resolve, but that Joplin herself might have, if only she’d outlived her addiction.