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DVD Review: Janis Joplin: Her Final Hours

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Questions surrounding the death of Janis Joplin have continued for years. At the time of her death Janis had recently become engaged, she was working with her new band, Full Tilt Boogie, and she was excited about the future. She was talking about leaving the music business, settling down, possibly raising a family. More importantly, she had finally kicked the heroin addiction that had plagued her for years. She had been clean for six months when she went into the studio in Hollywood to begin recording what would become her last, and greatest work, the album Pearl.

blogcritics_janis_joplin_geek_girlSo how is it that, at a time when she seemed to have so much to live for, Janis Joplin was found dead on the floor of her hotel room from a massive heroin overdose? She had been dead for 18 hours when her body was discovered. She had been alone when she died.

Janis Joplin: Her Final Hours, one of the four Final 24 DVDs released by MVD Visual in April, recreates the last 24 hours in the life of Janis Joplin, the first female rock star. It traces her movements: who she met with, who she spoke to on the phone, where she went.

The hour-long film tells the story of her rise to the top of the '60s music scene and her descent into alcohol and heroin addiction. Her brother Michael Joplin speaks, adding his insight into her childhood and her relationship with her parents, particularly the difficult relationship with her mother. Interviews with high school and college friends Jim Langdon and Powell St. John unravel her pre-stardom years — the years that seem to have doomed her. They talk about the abuse and humiliation she suffered as an outcast in her birth town of Port Arthur, Texas and at the University of Texas in Austin.

janis_joplin_blogcritics_movie_reviewThrough archival concert and television footage (including her legendary appearances on The Dick Cavett Show) and realistic re-enactments, we are introduced to the woman behind the rock star — the small town girl who would come to be known as 'The Wild Woman of Rock' and finally, simply, Pearl. We catch a glimpse of what those who knew her saw: a little girl, tough on the outside, yet broken inside, afraid to be alone.

Her former road manager John Cooke, publicist Myra Friedman, and members of Big Brother and Full Tilt Boogie, David Getz, Sam Andrew, and John Till, tell the story of Janis's three years as a rock and roll icon. From Big Brother's soul-shaking debut performance at The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 — the performance that threw Janis into the whirlwind of rock stardom — through her misery in Kozmic Blues Band and finally, her recovery from addiction and her excitement in joining Full Tilt Boogie and recording Pearl.

It covers the most compelling mystery of all. How could Janis Joplin have overdosed on heroin? By all accounts, including Full Tilt Boogie Band members working and hanging out with her literally hours before her death, she was clean. Where had she gotten the heroin? Who was the last person to speak with her on the night she died?

Final 24 is a series of true life stories, each of which documents the life and death of a famous person. By examining the past, and re-creating the events that occurred on the day they died, producer Nick Godwin is able to capture, through reflection, the tragic end that was always rushing towards them like a head-on train. Some died by accident, others through self-destruction or suicide, and some had their lives cut short by the hand of another.

So far I've seen four of the episodes released by MVD Entertainment Group and I am absolutely hooked. Final 24, part documentary and part biography, is the most fascinating collection of real life, and death, stories I've ever seen. Heart-wrenching. Tragic. Brilliant. Nick Godwin is a genius.

blogcritics_final_24_joplin_reviewI give Janis Joplin: Her Final Hours my highest recommendation for those who love '60s and '70s rock, and for her fans, of course. That says a lot coming from me — a girl with an extensive background in rock history. It's rare for me to hear a Joplin story that I haven't heard before. What I liked most about this video is that it wasn't the same old re-hashed stories, it was personal, people talking about a girl they knew. A girl they loved.

I've had a dead crush on Janis Joplin for years. I've read the biographies, listened to the music, watched the interviews, but this is the first time I've seen the puzzle pieces of her life put together in such a way. Listening to her friends and family talk about her life, and seeing the impact her death had on them, has brought me that much closer to understanding this complicated woman. Sadly, what is revealed in hindsight might well have saved her life, but I think Jim Langdon put it best in the video: "She's still with us. Thirty-seven years later, no matter where you are in America, you can flip on your car radio and, at some point or another, you're going to hear Janis Joplin… singing."

Coming next in the Final 24 Review series is Keith Moon: His Final Hours.

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  • FC, I used to swear that there had to be a conspiracy… That someone had forced that overdose on her. Perhaps because she was talking about leaving? Perhaps people she had left in the lurch?

    I don’t want to give away anything that should really be gotten from this video. They do a much better job of detailing.

    But one thing which is revealed in the movie is that 8 other people died of massive heroin overdoses on the same night as Janis. All from the same batch of heroin.

    You’ll have to watch to find out more. I don’t want to ruin it for you. All I can say is that it truly changed everything I had thought about what happened to Janis Joplin that night.

  • Have they ruled out a conspiracy? 🙂