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Juan Gabriel Vásquez,
Jon Lee Anderson
Janis Joplin was an outcast who made her dream of stardom come true...that part we already know
Amy Berg's documentary charting the course that blues and rock singer Janis Joplin took from her childhood hometown of Port Arthur, Texas to San Francisco and then Los Angeles in the 1960s is filled with great clips and fantastic music (particularly the performance of the lesser-known "Little Girl Blue" shown at the conclusion). However, there's nothing here--not even the reading of letters Janis wrote home to her family--that will surprise anyone who has followed Joplin's career since her untimely demise in October 1970. Although she lived a wild, scattered but full-blooded life in her 27 years, Joplin's recording career was extremely brief (two albums, one with her first band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, followed by a solo album, released posthumously). Janis as a human being was anything but predictable, and yet the myriad of documentaries chronicling her life and stardom all seem to cover the same territory, the sex-drugs-and-rock and roll high-life. Berg insulates Joplin here, as Joplin was insulated by the yes-men in her life who were trying to steer her career. We do not hear about the books Janis read (she was a huge F. Scott Fitzgerald fan), the movies she saw, how she felt about the war in Vietnam or the hippie movement or her second-rate (for her) performance at Woodstock. She is, of course, a tragic figure in popular music, but fleshing out that figure--giving us some surprising, intimate insights into her quirky personality--has yet to be achieved. **1/2 from ****
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