Just like any film genre, documentary can sometimes get restrictive. What I mean by that is that there is only a certain amount of ways you can tell someone or something’s story. Director Amy Berg approaches the rock star documentary in a refreshing way in that she tells the tale of Janis Joplin by having present day singer Cat Power narrate the story by reading the singer’s letters to friends, people in the music industry and family. What that does is really give you a window into the woman from her own perspective. Rather unique. It is not someone else interpreting a life.
Growing up Janis faced a few challenges. Mainly it was that she was considered different by her peers. Kids can be cruel and she was an outsider. Growing up in Texas she was always made to feel like an oddball or freak. Something like that really marks a person. Janis retained that odd girl or outsider feeling throughout her short life no matter how popular she became. It also gives you an idea of how things got out of control for her and how these types of feelings contributed to her death.
The ups and downs continued throughout her life. Often while watching you get waves of sadness for her that wash over you. It certainly, mostly because it uses a lot of the woman’s own words, makes you feel like you got an in-depth look into her life. We see that being on stage was where she felt best because she finally got the positive attention she craved but never got since childhood. To compensate she turned to drugs when not onstage. Brutally honest and unflinchingly they tell the story of Janis Joplin’s tragic life.
What the documentary really reinforces is what a great entertainer she was. How much of herself she put into her live shows and music. It wasn’t only her marvelous voice that separated her from the rest; it was the spirit she infused her music and performances with. She was a true artist and that was in part her downfall. She felt too much and too deeply. It led to self-destructive behaviour. Eventually after years of destructive behaviour she died of a heroin overdose at age twenty-seven.