Tuesday, September 15, 2015

TIFF 2015: Janis: Little Girl Blue

Janis: Little Girl Blue (U.S., 2015) directed by Amy Berg, Scotiabank 2, 4p, 106 minutes

If you are like me and have a limited knowledge of Janis Joplin’s life, you might have shared the view that Joplin was a carefree, happy-go-lucky hippie. This film is important in that the filmmaker Amy Berg has discovered some previously unseen material that paints a fuller, more nuanced portrait of the singer.

Born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1943, it might surprise you to learn that Joplin was an early and vocal supporter of integration in Texas, a highly unpopular view in that era and place. She was an early Beatnik who loved the blues and black music and a loner with few friends. She was once voted “Ugliest Man’ by her schoolmates. 

That early ugliness and sense of alienation drove her, after high school, to embrace the scene in San Francisco amongst hippies and rockers and like-minded people. It was also her first taste of hard drugs.

As a member of the increasingly popular Big Brother and the Holding Company, she became a rock star but still, she wondered, “Why do the guys in the band go home with some girl and I go home alone?” Even when she was calling the shots with her own band, the Kozmic Blues Band, her insecurities did not seem to abate. 

What would drive this young woman, at the height of her fame, to return to her high school reunion ten years after she graduated in her feather boa and psychedelic glasses - to say "Look, I am better than you think I was."

I find it extraordinarily empowering to see a woman succeed on her own terms in the music industry - through sheer will power and talent rather than sex appeal and and the usual trappings of conventional - short-lived as it was.

A profoundly complex person of great sensitivity – we learn about a more this vulnerable and lonely person through rarely seen footage, interviews and her personal letters to her straight-laced yet loving family back in Texas who watched in wonder as she soared into the stratosphere.

TIFF of the Day: Wonderful to see artists such as Pink, Juliette Lewis and other female artists acknowledge Joplin's influence in the closing credits of the film. I could easily see Pink in a bio pic about Joplin's life. 

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