Fri 13 Jan 2012
I seldom find myself in such a deep disagreement with the rating of the viewers at IMDB as with the documentary Love, Janis directed by Ray Muller (BTW, I would love to see his two documentaries on Leni Riefenstahl). Of course, seven viewers votes is not a good statistic sample, but then only an average of 5 for an almost perfect documentary on one of the greatest artists in the history of blues, the woman and the voice who changed the perception of people and audiences about who can sing the blues. Then I looked at the age information and I realized than only one of the seven voters was in the 45+ category, in other words he was five years old at least when Janis died. Yes, a two generations gap makes the difference. And yet …
Love, Janis is inspired by the biographical book with the same name (including also Janis’ letters to her family) written by her sister who is also interviewed in the film. In 50 minutes director Muller succeeds to bring the essential information about the young girl from Port Arthur, Texas, who rebelled against the environment and the mentality, discovered her immense talent, ran away to San Francisco, landed there at the pick of the beat and hippie revolutions, made her way in the music industry and conquered the picks of the tops and love of the audiences, fought the daemons of loneliness and personal crises, and eventually succumbed to an overdose of drugs and alcohol just when it looked like her career was getting back on track. Interviews with people like Dave Getz and Sam Andrew (who played with her in The Big Brother and Holding Company), photographer Bob Seidemann (who took her famous nude photographs), John B. Cooke her tour manager (who at that time was also working with Bob Dylan), and music critic Joel Selvin throw light on various moments of her life and career, and bring back with admiration and affection the image of a girl, a woman who lived and created with a rare intensity. The best way to describe her life and art is to say that she burned like a flame, consumed way too early. The only critic I can bring to the film is that there is too little music, but we do have other films, recordings and youTube for this.
Here is caught on screen (and the documentary tells something about the story of the filming) the moment of the first breakthrough of her career – the festival at Monterey in 1967. The song is Balls and Chains – try to overcome the sound problems at the beginning.
This version of Piece of My Heart (originally recorded by Erma Franklin in 1968) is quite far from the best known version of the song, and this live feature which must be from 1968 does not have the best sound, but I prefer it as it shows Janis on stage, giving all she had to her audience.
The social component was very much part of her singing. It is more than visible in her famous a capella – the jewel called Mercedes Benz.
1969 was a year of changes, ups and down. Janis was at Woodstock (here she is singing Try) but was not at her best. We could not have imagined however the pick moment of the rock revolution without her presence.
The tour in Europe the same year was however a great success. She conquered the UK and other European audiences. Here she is performing George Gershwin’s Summertime in Sweden.
1970 started in crisis but later in the year she was recovering and she recorded Pearl. The destiny decided that she did not live to see it released and become her most successful album ever. There could be no better ending for the film than the sounds of Me and Bobby McGee written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster.