If you look for this documentary under the image tab of the search engine of your choice, you will come across many a photographed portrait of Janis Joplin. Very little else emerges except perhaps the occasional film poster. This is somewhat reflective of Janis: Little Girl Blue, a film deeply concerned with image and painting a portrait rather than exploring music, art or legacy. I went into Janis: Little Girl Blue to learn, having known next to nothing about Joplin and her music beforehand. I came out with an impression of a woman and a personality rather than that of a musician, which is where this documentary lets itself down the most. Distributed by Dogwoof, Janis: Little Girl Blue shares many familiar qualities with other films that have sought refuge under their independent wing. Its whimsy, wit and beautiful imagery is charming and what we have come to expect from a Dogwoof documentary but it loses its way in a hippy haze of self indulgence. The film mostly moves in chronological order, beginning with stories of her childhood, parents and school years before we follow her on her journeys to Austin and L.A. through education and into her ambitions to become a musical and artistic success. Talking-head interviews with numerous characters introduce us to old friends, band mates and lovers. Meanwhile, narrated letters from Janis to family members and loved ones drives the narrative forward and re-emphasises her personal drive and journey. For me, these segments were something of an annoyance, reminding me of my similar struggles with Cobain: Montage of Heck last year as I found myself, again, trying desperately to find something to like about the film’s subject and icon.
I wanted to learn more about her craft, her emotional outlet and her influence over her art form. Instead you are presented with many people discussing her as an inspiration but there isn’t enough discussion of exactly what impression she’s left. Instead, we’re force-fed the occasional archive footage clip of recording sessions and live performances which feels somewhat lazy. With the success and intelligence of Amy still fresh in our minds, Janis: Little Girl Blue struggles to make enough noise to grab our attention. Both Amy and Janis: Little Girl Blue present un-likeable, brash, unapologetic egos and their blatant battles with their plaguing demons. Where Amy won me round to Winehouse, this failed to make me care, appreciate or empathise with Joplin, perhaps due to its lack of depth and its lack of ambition to really explore the music rather than the mayhem. Addiction is always present and in discussion here, something that the documentary balances well. It resurfaces in conversation as one can imagine it did in Joplin’s own life. We don’t build towards darkness here, we sink and rise in and out of it – an apt representation of the real life battle with drug and alcohol addiction experienced by Joplin. Janis: Little Girl Blue thinks it’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World, and its own belief in this fact only makes it more apparent that it is not. Due to its irritating central focus and limited study of her music, Janis: Little Girl Blue is altogether bland and forgettable.
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