Come on and take it. Take another little piece of my heart.
It was really interesting to watch this documentary about Janis Joplin a few months after having seen Amy, the documentary about Amy Winehouse. It’s kind of unsettling how the stories seem to be basically the same, all the way down to the perceived recovery just before death. I wonder if it speaks to the way in which the documentarians shaped the stories, but I’m afraid not. I’m afraid this tragic, familiar arc is all too real: ordinary beginnings; the slow climb to fame; the struggles with alcohol/drugs; the recovery; the tragic death. It’s archetypal, but it’s also very visceral. This film is really good. It features a ton of concert footage and a ton of behind the scenes footage and does a good job tracking the rise and fall in a compelling way, a way that holds your interest despite you already knowing how everything ends. It also features a lot of narration from Joplin’s letters and journals; singer-songwriter Cat Power does a great job reading that narration. It’s a film that’s haunting and disturbing, in the same way Amy was, and it left me with a sick feeling, a real deep sadness. But the reason it does get to the viewer so emotionally is the character of Joplin. After the sadness fades, the thing that will remain with you is the intensity of her genius and the sheer force of her personality. She’s a hugely complicated woman and an even more complicated artist. Again, it’s like Amy; you sort of rediscover the art through the film and as heart-wrenching as the story is, and it is very heart-wrenching, it’s that renewed passion for the subject’s art that you really carry with you. But I suppose they’re sides of the same coin. The more you appreciate the genius, the more tragic the story is. And we’re talking about Janis Joplin, so both of those things are off the charts. 4 stars.
tl;dr – documentary about Janis Joplin features loads of her music and a tragic story; it succeeds at both renewing passion for her art and creating a deeply emotionally effecting story. 4 stars.