Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday's Choice: Cry Baby

This performance by Janis Joplin is the highlight of the 2003 film Festival Express, a documentary account of a traveling rockfest that journeyed across Canada by train in the summer of 1970. Besides Janis, performers included The Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy, and The Band.

The upcoming excerpt is a near-perfect example of "less is more" film making. Frankly, few if any modern directors would have the courage to handle 30 seconds of a movie in this manner, much less six minutes. Using at most two cameras, director Frank Cvitanovich makes minimal cuts (I counted seven) and uses on slow zooms and pullbacks that allow Janis' brilliant, kinetic performance to speak for itself. In fact, the camera remains stationary for at least the last three minutes, but Janis' energy and commitment is such that you don't notice. Which is the way it should be: Performance and composition is all; manipulative multiple cuts and swoops are gimmicks nowhere to be found.

At one point, the camera zooms carefully to an extreme close-up, then holds its position as Janis' head pops in and out of view, allowing the viewer to interpret her performance in a way not available to the fans who attended the show. She's amazing, but give the director credit for trusting his star and applying a nuanced, subtle technique that reveals her performance rather than upstages it or, worse, gives it a death of a thousand cuts.

Janis Joplin died from an overdose of heroin about three months after the filming of this performance.

R.I.P., Bettie Page.


Renegade Eye said...

I used to know all of her songs by heart, because I played the records so much.

Ima Hapynau said...

What a loss! I've often wondered what she would be like today. Actually, I don't think she would like "today", at all.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

darn I missed it, the film came to cleveland in august - a time when I was seriously off my movie going habits. sounds great.

thanks for the heads up.

K. said...

Kimy, that's what Netflix is for! The movie is well-worth seeing, although this is the most arresting performance. The behind-the-scenes jams on the train are priceless.

I still pull out my Janis sides a couple of times a year. She'll never die. Ima, Im-a with you!