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“janis: little girl blue” movie review

Janis Joplin Pearl

A generation or two before Amy Winehouse, there was Janis Joplin.

Both powerhouse singers died tragically at the age of 27 from substance abuse and, with the release of the eye-opening new documentary, Janis: Little Girl Blue, the comparisons are inevitable.

But what’s actually most striking — and surprising — are their differences.

I was only 11 when Janis Joplin died in 1970, and I remember being fascinated by her story. I was a Joni Mitchell girl, and Janis kind of scared me. She exuded so much confidence and sexuality, and was loud and raw with a primal scream of a voice that could send chills down your spine. I couldn’t understand what kind of pain she must have been in to feel the blues that deeply.

After watching Janis: Little Girl Blue, I think I understand.

Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg explores Joplin’ life through the singer’s own personal letters to her friends and family, read as a voiceover by singer-songwriter Chan Marshall (Cat Power). The letters are articulate, painfully honest and revelatory, revealing a side of Joplin desperate for love and acceptance.

Unlike Winehouse, who was hounded incessantly by paparazzi, Joplin’s fame was pre-internet and her demons were her own, deeply ingrained from childhood.

“I’m sorry to be such a disappointment to you,” she writes to her family in one of many heartfelt letters. Her brother and sister talk openly and sadly about her inability to follow rules — and to fit in to their hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. They share her scrapbooks in which she curated pictures of society’s ideals of beauty, and admit how devastated she was to be named “ugliest man on campus” by a college fraternity.

How does someone get over something like that?

Although her talent was recognized by fans, critics and fellow musicians, it simply wasn’t enough. Joplin yearned for romantic love, and none of those relationships seemed to work out.

It’s heartbreaking to hear her words, “I want to be happy so bad,” and listen to her wonder, “Why do all the band members go home with girls and I go home alone?”

The movie features some poignant moments, including Mama Cass sitting in the audience at Monterey Pop, obviously blown away by Joplin’s performance, Dick Cavett reminiscing about his relationship with Joplin (what?!) and Kris Kristofferson exclaiming it was “exhilarating” to hear Joplin cover his “Me and Bobby McGee.”

Led by that chart topper, Joplin’s album, Pearl, went on to become her biggest hit, selling four million albums.  The fact that it was released three months after Joplin died alone in a Los Angeles hotel room just takes another little piece of your heart.


  1. That first photo scared me. Right after Janis died I had a sleepover party and we held a seance to bring back Janis. I took my album of “Pearl”, placed it in the middle of our circle, turned off the lights and lit a candle. One of my friends said Janis was with us and felt her arms around her. We screamed, my mother came in and that was that. Even today when Janis cackles at the end of her “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” on the radio I cringe!!!

    She had a sad life and I’ve read about her before, including watching a few interviews, because I was still morbidly curious. (REALLY? Dick Cavett???) Thanks for this review, Lois. I want to see the documentary. Like you I was a JONI girl, and Janis simply scared me. Time to face that fear before I turn 57, eh? 🙂 Happy New Year dear friend. xoxo

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      OMG that’s wild, Cathy! What a memory! I will now think of your seance every time I hear that song!! Happy new year to you, too. We need to start 2016 off right by SEEING EACH OTHER! xoxo

  2. That trailer looks great. I saw one of her last concerts at the Garden State Arts Center (Now it’s the PNC Art Center I think) back in wow like 1970 I think. She was amazing…just amazing. I feel so lucky that I had a chance to see her perform. I can’t wait to see this flick!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Wow, that’s amazing that you got to see her perform! Would love to hear more about that concert! Definitely go see the movie. It will bring back a lot of memories.

  3. I was too young to really know who she was until after she died…but I love singing her songs…

  4. She’s always broken my heart. I felt for that little lost girl and look forward to seeing this.

  5. She always scared me too but the older I got the more I loved her and wished she could have felt loved.
    I’m looking forward to the documentary.

  6. As a Janis fan I am so going to watch this. It amazes me how some of our greatest performers like Janis, Amy and even Robin have the largest demons to fight.

  7. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I was never a fan (I was a Joni girl too) but it sounds like this documentary shows another side of her. I’d like to see it.

  8. I’d love to learn more about Janis. I’m realizing now that she’s always been sort of a mystery to me. This sounds like a must see documentary.

  9. Dick Cavett?? Now I’ve heard everything. Enjoyed your review. I know you mostly as a travel writer; now I’m a fan of your critical writing as well.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Thank you! I’m a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society and have been writing movie reviews for years. And Dick Cavett? I know!

  10. I’ve seen this on a couple MUST-SEE lists, and your review makes it even more of a must-see for me. Thank you! (I’ve got AMY on my must-see list, too.) 😀

  11. I would appear I’m one of the few people that didn’t know who Jani’s was. I’m listening to her album now as I’m typing and she had a beautiful voice! Sad she passed and didn’t get to see how well her album did!

  12. Janis had such a phenomenal voice – I enjoy listening to her music now just as much as back then. But her loss was so tragic.

  13. I don’t remember her and was never a fan, but her story is heartbreaking. Another talent lost too soon to drugs.

  14. Her story really is heartbreaking. A girl with big talent lost entirely too soon.

  15. I don’t know that much about Janis Joplin, but I’ve always liked her music. I will have to watch this documentary.

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