Of several celebrity biography documentaries I’ve seen this year, two stand out: Amy (as in Winehouse) and Janis: Little Girl Blue. Interestingly, both performers had similar personalities, made similar music, and traveled similar roads that ended early (at the same age, no less). Both biographies also present their subjects in an imperfect albeit human light.
Narrated by Cat Power, director Amy Berg lets Joplin tell her own story through letters she wrote to her family after leaving Texas for San Francisco in the early Sixties. Interviews with her sister, former band mates, and even Dick Cavett, who famously discussed Joplin’s upcoming ten-year high school reunion on his show less than two months before her death (and who curiously disclosed in his interview for this film that he “may or may not” have been intimate with her), round out her story. What emerges is an ambitious outcast searching for love and acceptance. Two anecdotes are particularly telling and disturbing: a fraternity voted Joplin “ugliest man on campus” during her short tenure at the University of Texas at Austin during the fall of 1962, and footage from her aforementioned ten-year reunion suggests that her old classmates ignored her when she showed up. Weird, considering she was already famous by then. Janis: Little Girl Blue shows a vulnerable side of Joplin that I didn’t know she had.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) A