Little Girls Blue and Colorful

1473357417lo_sept2016Originally airing at Christmastime 2015 and now available on DVD, Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment) is a “family-oriented, faith-based” dramatization of Parton’s beloved song, one that she considers to be her favorite. In many ways, Coat of Many Colors is exactly what you might expect it to be considering its genesis and that it’s a prime-time network TV movie. Although safe and sanitized, sensitive queer viewers will no doubt feel a stirring while watching the early stages of what would go on to be a lifelong friendship between Dolly and her close childhood friend Judy.

Parton’s story begins in 1955, around the time she was nine years old. Outspoken and self-assured Dolly (Alyvia Alyn Lind) was the middle child of eight siblings (there were more to follow). A gifted singer, Dolly regularly soloed at the church where her maternal grandfather Jake (Gerald McRaney) was pastor. Dolly’s deeply religious mother Avie (singer Jennifer Nettles proving her mettle as an actress) was often at odds with Dolly’s father Robert (Ricky Schroder), who would drive the family to church but would never set foot inside.

The movie, with its simplistic and lazy script, details the many tragedies and few triumphs that befell the Partons at the time that Avie sewed the infamous patchwork coat for Dolly. Religion is lost and found, bullies are bested and friendships and relationships survive all kinds of tests. Heartfelt, but hokey, and bursting with old and new testament references (see Joseph and his Technicolor “dreamcoat”), the movie is almost saved by the strong performances by Nettles, Schroder and Lind. DVD bonus features include an “alternate version,” deleted scenes and a featurette.

How’s this for an interesting fact? Janis Joplin was born on the same day as Dolly Parton, three years earlier. Stop and think about that for a moment, won’t you?

Released, as it was, shortly after the Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse doc Amy, Janis: Little Girl Blue (MVD Visual), written and directed by Amy J. Berg, is another cautionary tale about musicians, substance abuse and a tragic death at the age of 27. Narrated by musician Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power), who gives voice to notorious letter-writer Joplin’s missives, Janis: Little Girl Blue utilizes vintage concert and interview footage and other source material to remind us of Joplin’s stunning talent as well as the hardships and triumphs she endured.

Including interviews with Joplin’s sister Laura and brother Michael, childhood friend Karleen, high school friend J. Dave, Rolling Stone Magazine’s David Dalton, Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead, music impresario Clive Davis, filmmaker D A Pennebaker (Monterey Pop), Dick Cavett, former boyfriend David Niehas, and ex-girlfriend Jae Whitaker, among others, Little Girl Blue paints an intimate portrait of the talented but troubled artist. Covering her outsider status in Port Arthur, Texas (both at home and at school) to Joplin finding herself in the Austin music scene of the early 1960s and relocating to San Francisco in 1963 where she began a lesbian relationship with Whitaker, director Davis illuminates Joplin’s tough exterior but sensitive interior.

1473357417lo_sept2016Seeking solace in alcohol and drugs, and in need of constant stroking, Joplin was conflicted about her sexuality. Most fully alive when performing, we follow Joplin as she begins to sing with Big Brother & The Holding Company in San Francisco’s counterculture revolutionary music scene. From there it’s a short ride to her breakthrough performance in June 1967 at the Monterey Pop Fest. Before 25- year-old Janis surpassed her band members, they signed with Columbia Records where its debut album Cheap Thrills went achieved gold status in three days.

Dividing her time between New York’s Chelsea Hotel and Los Angeles, and dealing with the band’s complicated reaction to her fame, Janis goes solo, and in the process became a caricature of what she was. The negative press she received and the huge pressure to succeed was almost more than she could bear. But a successful European tour momentarily raised her spirits. Nevertheless, her increased drug use, described as “out of hand,” and her somewhat incoherent performance at Woodstock led to another dark period.

Regardless, Janis kicked heroin while in Brazil, where she also fell in love. Attending her 10 year high school class reunion in Texas, we still see her pain when she talks about how she “felt apart” from her classmates. Clean and comfortable about life, Joplin went into the studio to record what would be her final album, Pearl, containing “Me and Bobby McGee,” which would become her biggest hit single. As we know, she wouldn’t life to enjoy that good fortune, dying of a “one last hurrah” drug overdose in October 1970. DVD special features include deleted and extended scenes, as well as a few featurettes.

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