Monday, May 31, 2010

DVD Reviews: Final 24: Janis Joplin and Keith Moon

Text and live photos © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
Film images from the Internet

Janis Joplin: Her Final Hours
Season 2, Episode 4
Directed by Paul Kilback

Cineflix International, 2007
60 minutes, USD $14.95

Keith Moon: His Final Hours
Season 2, Episode 5
Directed by Peter St. Laurent

Cineflix International, 2007
60 minutes, USD $14.95

I had never heard of the Canadian television series (a joint Ontario / Quebec venture) Final 24: A Dramatization, but I want to see the whole series now. It’s a hoot.

Actually, this is a fine mixture of first person interviews, actual footage and photos of the artist, and actors dramatizing the last day in b-roll format (silent under the narration). Through it all is British narrator Danny Wallace (though IMDB states it as Dave McRae) leads us on the journey in flat tones that sound like Neil Innes doing a roving news reporter. The dialog he reads is somber and unintentionally cringe-worthy, with lines like “Little did Janis know that she had just bought the drugs that would kill her in only so-and-so hours.”

But that is part of the charm of this two-season series (here is the list of the people covered: Yes, I realize I’m using humorous terms about the tragic death of humans, but really, after all the media attention over the past 30-plus years, their lives have become more iconic than real; whether this is a good thing or bad, it’s up to the individual to decide.

The last-day vignettes are performed mostly as silent plays (in rare occasion a word or two will break through, such as Keith Moon’s lover screaming “No!” when she discovers him). The actors playing the main roles are interesting choices. Sara Hennessey is an Ontario-based actress and comedian, who plays Janis slinking along in a stupor, mostly, and actually shows some of her own personality, as well as Janis’s. A little lithe and perhaps too pretty for being Janis, she still does an excellent job embodying her, as well as can be done as essentially a mime.

Keith Moon is portrayed by Michael Rode, who is actually miscast. Nothing against the fine acting job he does, but unlike Sara, he looks nothing like Moon: he’s too tall, too thin (remember, this is the last day, so it was Moon at his most bloated, as the film clips and stills attest), and looks too young (even in the narration, it’s posited that all the substance abuse had made him look older than his years).

So that is the entertaining part of the show, but lets get to some meat here: what really makes the program is not necessarily the last 24 hours, which is nicely dissected in increments of events with a digital clock showing how much time the subject has left to live (which is constantly reminded to us by the narration), but the overview of the person’s life. Each of these have present day (relatively) interviews with people who were prominent in the person’s life. For example, in the Janis Joplin episode, some of the musicians that backed her up over the years remember her, including from Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band, and the Full Tilt Boogie Band. There’s also road managers and other acquaintances, including a gushing high school classmate and a somewhat bitter take from her brother Michael. There is no commentary by her sister Laura, though, who wrote a book about Janis.

For the Keith Moon episode, I found the interviews even more interesting (if possible), from Moon’s live-in lover, the stunning Annette Walter-Lax, who discovered his body, and his daughter, Amanda Moon, who comes across as sad and somewhat angry that she didn’t really get to know her dad. Ironically, there is also an interview with Faces’ drummer (and Moon’s good friend) Kenny Jones, who would go on to replace Moon in the Who (though he could never live up to Moon’s standard – but then again, could anyone?). Walter-Lax easily comes across as the most sympathetic, even to this day.

There is also a level of salaciousness that goes through the tone of the pieces, added to by the creepy writing and narration. “In just 10 hours, s/he will be dead,” we are reminded often. There is a large focus on the negatives for the protagonists, whether it’s Janis’s drug intake (though trying to clean up and pointedly failing), easy manner with both men and women, mistreatment back in Ft. Arthur – including her ill-fated attempt to return a star – and her unhappiness with her first two bands. Oh, and then there is the quickie engagement and fight with her boyfriend the night of…well, you know.

With Moon, it’s excess of escapade, the accidental running over and killing of his friend / driver Neil Boland (and the depression that followed), the constant threat of being kicked out of the Who, and the large volume of drink and pharmaceuticals he ingested (though trying to clean up and pointedly failing). The DVD covers state, “These are psychological detective stories attempting to uncover the mystery of why the celebrity died.”

This is the video equivalent of a celebrity magazine, where all the faults are highlighted in yellow, and yet one can’t take their eyes away. I want what I say here to be taken the tongue-in-cheek way I mean it: the Final 24 series is like fast food, but like that fine eating, it is addicting, enjoyable, and you just want more. I’m hoping to get to see the whole series at some point.

Bonus videos:

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