Netflix UK film review: Janis: Little Girl Blue
Ivan Radford | On 22, May 2016
Director: Amy J. Berg
Cast: Cat Power, Janis Joplin
Watch Janis: Little Girl Blue online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
It’s always the way. You spend your life waiting for a biopic of an iconic female blues singer who passed away at a tragically young age and two come along at once. After Asif Kapadia’s Amy took home the Oscar for Best Documentary, Janis: Little Blue packs a similarly strong punch.
It’s somewhat ironic that Janis’ documentary should be so overshadowed by Winehouse’s portrait, as without the former, the latter might never have happened. Joplin’s influence has rung down through the decades, despite the fact that she, too, checked out at the all-too-young age of 27. Director Amy Berg captures her swift rise and equally swift fall with engaging detail.
It’s hard to believe that there’s never been a notable feature-length look at the singer’s life – but Berg certainly comes as close as you could hope for, with impressive research unearthing unseen footage, contributions from friends and former partners and a whole heap of concert footage. She’s electric to watch in action on stage, from her distinctive, yowling voice to her unashamedly idiosyncratic appearance. A brief glimpse into the studio recordings of her cover of Summertime leave you wanting more on the technical side of her craft, but Berg makes up for it with a wealth of emotion.
That stems from the hugely effective decision to narrate her life through the lens of letters and written correspondence to family, friends and lovers.
“I wanna be happy so fucking bad,” she writes in one. “In San Francisco, I kinda wanted to meet an old man and be happy,” she reveals, “but I found Lynda and became a meth freak.” Another postcard just has the word “SIGH” written in capital letters.
Musician Cat Power reads out the letters, her soft tones giving the film a powerful intimacy – Joplin’s fanship of Bob Dylan is particularly interesting to learn about. It’s a technique that, much like Kapadia’s Oscar winner, overcomes the biggest obstacle to capturing Janis’ unique presence and talent on-screen: she’s portrayed in her own words, rather than anyone else’s. The two films also share a sensitive exploration of the idea that celebrity and affection can be as addictive as drugs. Amy may be the better, more stylish film overall, but Berg’s documentary is a deserved tribute to an undoubtedly legendary musician.
Janis: Little Girl Blue is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.