I was determined to see Amy Berg‘s Janis: Little Girl Blue, her American Masters doc about the great Janis Joplin a day or two ago, mainly because I wanted to hear that great legendary voice booming out of large theatre speakers. And I did that. Sat in a full house in a big, 45-degree-angle arena theatre, and we all sank in and went back to Joplinland. I can listen to her any old time with earphones, but this was almost a concert-like experience, I didn’t care if a certain portion of the footage is accessible on YouTube (such as the below clip from Joplin’s break-out performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival), and I wouldn’t have minded if Berg had served up a middling, good-enough portrait. But it’s better than that. And sadder than I expected. It reminded me that her run with Big Brother and the Holding Company was the most exuberant period of her life and career, and that the successful, big-time portion of that alliance lasted only from the Monterey Pop Festival to the very end of ’68 — 18 months. Then came her association with the Kozmic Blues Band (’68 and ’69) and the Full Tilt Boogie Band (’70) — a period not devoid of hits or highs but generally spotty. (Rock critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote that the Kozmic guys were a “drag” and that Joplin should “go right back to being a member of Big Brother.”) And then on 10.4.70 she was gone, dead in a Hollywood hotel room, a victim of too-strong heroin. Heavy drugs were so pervasive back then, so dominant and destructive. But the ’60s needed them as much drugs needed the ’60s, and everybody rode the train until it all turned banal with quaaludes and cocaine in the ’70s and early ’80s. And now it’s all back to alcohol, if that. Among your devil-may-care nocturnal types, I mean.
I didn’t see John Crowley‘s masterful Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight, 11.4 limited) here in Toronto, but in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. I had initially watched it on a third-generation dupe DVD, but even under those crummy conditions the internals were unmissable. Brooklyn is a gentle, perfectly judged, profoundly stirring romantic classic — not just set in the early ’50s but shot, timed, cut and performed in a way that approximates the aesthetic standards of that era. It’s an amber time-capsule movie with a pulse and what feels to me like a real Irish heartbeat, and a feeling of things blooming and beginning and modest people trying to do the right thing.
Brooklyn could have been released in ’52 alongside High Noon, Singin’ In The Rain and The Bad and the Beautiful and audiences would have nodded and applauded and said the same things people are saying now — “This is a film I could take my mother to, but it’s good enough to satisfy the toughest, most cynical critics…a rooted love story, a film about decent and believable folk as well as tradition, discretion, real love and 1950s Brooklyn family values.”
A good movie doesn’t have to go wham-bam-kaboom and make audiences go “holy shit!…what just happened?” to earn a seat at the Best Picture table, and this is one such occasion. There’s a time and a place for every kind of film, and thank God an effort like Brooklyn has come along — a fine little reminder of the pleasures of emotional simplicity served up in a low-key, no-bull fashion. Cutting-edge cognoscenti might be looking for something flashier or jizzier but people who know from quality will warm to Brooklyn‘s timelessness. A Best Picture nomination seem assured, as I noted last month.
And there can be no doubt that Saoirse Ronan‘s performance as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant torn between two nice-guy suitors, is solemn and understated and quietly mesmerizing, and therefore a near-lock for a Best Actress nomination. Ditto Crowley for Best Director and Nick Hornby for Best Adapted Screenplay. Yves Belanger‘s elegant cinematography also warrants a nom.
Brooklyn is basically about young Eilis’s journey from Ireland to America to start a new life, and then falling in love with Tony Firello (Emory Cohen), a kindly Italian plumber of 25 or thereabouts who wants to marry her and build a home and start a family. But then she returns to Ireland to mourn the death of her sister, and soon after feels the pull of the heartland and wonders if she should maybe re-think her situation and stay with her own ones. Should she choose an American future or an Irish past?