Janis: Little Girl Blue

With the BAFTA-winning Amy poised to (hopefully) pick up the Academy Award for best documentary, along comes another doc about a woman with an incredible voice, who died at 27: Janis Joplin.


Rather more wistful than the close-to-the-bone Amy Winehouse documentary, Janis: Little Girl Blue is a detailed and loving look at the sandpaper-voiced vocalist and darling of the San Francisco music scene. Director Amy J. Berg delivers a heartfelt tribute, using Joplin’s intimate letters, phenomenal live footage and contributions from the likes of the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Blade‘s Kris Kristofferson.

Featuring her beautifully psychedelic versions of classics including Summertime and Piece of My Heart, the film illuminates Joplin’s brief but brilliant career, from being kicked out of her childhood choir to her tragic death in 1970, via her (noisy) affair with the Dead’s Pigpen. Bullied at school in Texas, Joplin moved to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and soon became a hippie icon. The film is a love letter to Janis, her eye-wateringly strong vocals, and 1960s counterculture (see also Gimme Shelter).

This poignant portrait of the Big Brother and the Holding Company singer speaks to the inclusive and expressive nature of rock music, which feels particularly potent a month on from David Bowie’s death. My only criticism (aside from the absence of the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick) is that captions identifying each contributor appear only once, making it hard to remember who everyone is.

Nevertheless, this is a groovy music documentary about a unique talent, who helped revolutionise music in the ’60s. No one had heard a woman sing like her, bursting with passion, blues and honesty. Not to mention volume. What’s more, Amy Adams is set to play Joplin in an upcoming biopic. Let’s hope they can afford the rights, or they’ll end up like Jenna Maroney in 30 Rock playing a singer called Jackie Jormp-Jomp.

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