Who Killed Janis Joplin?

Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue

Directed by Amy Berg (2015)

Film Review

This documentary is a mushy, pop psychology version of the life of late blues singer Janis Joplin. It makes an unsuccessful (in my view) attempt to tie her alcohol, amphetamine and heroin abuse (and ultimate heroin overdose) to her troubled adolescence in conservative Arthur Texas. The film is based on interviews with her sister Laura, friends and band mates; letters to her family and vintage footage from her concerts and recording sessions.

Berg paints Joplin as a somewhat geeky outcast who participated in civil rights protests during her last three years of high school – leading to bullying and harassment by fellow students, many of whom belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. The filmmaker makes the case that her unhappy adolescence left a gaping hole in Joplin’s psyche that could only be filled by alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex.

The film acknowledges that Joplin had been clean for nearly a year at the time of her  heroin overdose. It was during this period she recorded her biggest hit, Me and Bobby McGee, which signaled a totally new direction for her work.

What the film doesn’t mention is that several people close to Joplin (including her sister) suspected foul play in her alleged overdose, especially given the deaths of many of her contemporaries (activist rock stars) in similar circumstances. A book her sister Laura published in 2005 (Love, Janis IT Books), refers to persistent rumors  the CIA arranged her death.

The film also fails to mention that shortly before her death Joplin helped organize several huge anti-Vietnam War concerts for the peace movement. Or the FBI surveillance she experienced (like John Lennon). Or her 1974 affair with FBI operative Michel Raymond, who introduced her to amphetamines and encouraged her to use them regularly, leading to her amphetamine addiction. Or that members of the Grateful Dead introduced her to heroin to help her come down from speed. The Grateful Dead introduced many California rock musicians to heroin (as documented in a 1971 book, Living with the Dead, by their first manager Rock Scully).

As John Potash documents extensively in Drugs as Weapons Against Us (see MK-Ultra, LSD and the CIA War Against Musicians and Activists ), CIA MK-Ultra agents were aggressively pushing speed, heroin and LSD in the San Francisco rock scene in the sixties and early seventies.

The film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at the Maori TV website for the next 10 days: Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue

2 thoughts on “Who Killed Janis Joplin?

  1. I must admit to finding the opioid crisis a bit mystifying, Aunty. When I was in the US, all the doctors I knew were extremely reluctant to prescribe narcotics long term. Everyone I knew referred patients to pain and hospice specialists if they needed narcotics longer than a few weeks.

    Like

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