When I first saw Janis: Little Girl Blue at a late night screening during the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, I was riveted by filmmaker Amy Berg’s insightful and richly drawn biography of the iconic superstar’s vivid, tumultuous life and unforgettable music. What’s particularly unusual here is the intimacy of the narration from Joplin’s own point-of-view, as it unfolds in the reading of her personal letters to friends, family and lovers by singer-songwriter Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power). The result is a deftly crafted and heartbreaking portrait of an insecure, rebellious young woman with a ferocious talent, who never quite believed in herself or her right to be loved.
While tracing Joplin’s conflicted but brilliant musical collaborations and her surge to stardom, Berg features electrifying performances, along with a wealth of personal archival material, interviews with friends (notably Dick Cavett), and a nod to blues greats including Bessie Smith, Odetta and Billie Holiday, whose profound influence help to define Joplin from other singers steeped in the 60’s counterculture and folk traditions. At the festival premiere in New York City last November, the surprisingly young, passionate audience was sprinkled with colorful Joplin imitators–feathered head bands and leather fringe abounding–who spoke loudly to the enduring love for Janis and her legacy. –JBFC Programmer Karen Sloe Goodman