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Eagle Vision presents
Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin: Nine Hundred Nights (2001)

"This is the Now Generation. They feel disenchanted with the world around them"
- narrator

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: March 24, 2004

Stars: Peter Albin, Sam Andrew, David Getz, James Gurley, Janis Joplin, Rip Torn, narrator
Other Stars: Nick Gravenites, Lenny Kaye, Ellen Willis
Director: Michael Burlingame

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Some drug references, adult themes)
Run Time: 00h:58m:50s
Release Date: February 24, 2004
UPC: 801213004799
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+A+ A

DVD Review

This is one rock and roll story that has it all. A group of boys who just learned their instruments and are latching on to the end of the Beat Generation find a sound and, almost despite themselves, find success in the burgeoning San Francisco sound of the early 1960s. At some point, Big Brother and the Holding Company decide to take on a girl singer and the concept of the band changes through her presence. The Summer of Love arrives and so does the commercial powerhouse called the Monterey Pop Festival. Big Brother eventually sign to allow their performance there to be filmed, but, to their surprise, it is the girl singer who is the featured article and the band merely her sidemen. Suddenly caught up in a whirlwind, the band signs with a new manager, the legendary rock strongman Albert Grossman, who was most notable for his management of Bob Dylan. In the studio for their first major album, the band finds itself under pressure to produce despite their own inadequacies as musicians. An incredible classic #1 album, Cheap Thrills emerges, but suddenly the girl singer leaves the band for her own success, and later tragedy, and Big Brother fades into a footnote of a musical era.

Of course, the girl singer in this story is Janis Joplin, and she hovers over this documentary, appearing only in archival clips and the reminiscences of those who knew her. There is some excellent rare footage of Janis, especially in the studio scenes of the band recording. The dichotomy of feelings the band members display is fascinating. It was their association with Janis that is the ultimate success, but you can almost sense, although it is never said directly, that they feel that a more lasting success might have been achieved by the band without her. There was an aspect of Big Brother that was different from their contemporaries such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

The story is told through archival footage, pictures and clips from past documentaries, and interviews with Big Brother band members. First, the band was bassist Peter Albin, guitarist James Gurley, guitarist Sam Andrew, and drummer Dave Getz. James Gurley, proudly without music training, was the early star of that incarnation, known for outrageous psychedelic jamming. Besides the band, musicians Nick Gravenites and Lenny Kaye of Patti Smith Group comment on the story, as well as journalist Ellen Willis.

Some of the anecdotes and reminiscences are quite riveting, especially the early story of the formation of the band in the environment of the Haight in San Francisco. As the band achieves success and more troubles, the its members are quite candid in their assessment of their own contributions to both sides of the equation. The documentary is very nicely edited and moves quickly with its mix of photos, interviews, and clips. Rip Torn does a nicely understated job of narrating the film.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Another nice video transfer from Eagle that gives us a very watchable version of a documentary compiled from many different sources but including some very dark concert footage.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Dolby 5.1, DTS Surround, and Dolby Stereo are all available for this disc and they enable you to play it loud but the source is pretty weak. Totally listenable and quite potent, the sound is great in that there is very little noise or buzz, even at high levels. However, there is still that thinness that can't be overcome. As would be expected, the surround doesn't respond much except to echo and attempt to deepen the sound.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Complete Performances of Four Songs on Video
  2. Audio Recording
  3. Discography
  4. Photo Gallery
  5. Interview Outtakes
Extras Review: A nice assortment of extras complement this excellent and informative documentary. Besides additional interview outtakes and complete song performances, there are lovely items of the era including photos and posters.

There are complete performances of Down on Me, The Coo Coo, Ball and Chain, Piece of My Heart (17m:19s), an excellent addition to this disc. So often, snippets of songs are included in documentaries and in cases such as this—a documentary on DVD that is kept in a collection—it adds to the interest to have complete performances on hand.

An audio recording of Hall of the Mountain King (6m:51s) is a rare bit of pyschedelic fluff and quite enjoyable. The discography offers an nteresting look at the career of Joplin and Big Brother, and includes video as well.

An excellent feature is a fantastic collection of concert posters starring the psychedelic art of the era. Also included are copious publicity and candid photos of the band members and a section of "treasures" that include original art, song lists, and other memorabilia.

Biographical Timelines is a bit skimpy but nicely illustrated.

Interview Outtakes (1h:30m:36s): Ellen Willis is featured in seven segments that focus mostly on Janis. Peter Albin appears in eight outtakes with more insight into the history of the band, some songs, and "where were you when Janis died?" Sam Andrew has twelve additional segments with history, song trivia, and "where were you...." Dave Getz appears in nine additional segments with more history, more tidbits about songs, and where he was when Janis died. James Gurley appears in nine additional segments with insights from his own perspective on the band. Nick Gravenites adds three segments about his association with Big Brother. Lenny Kaye is featured in four additional segments with further comments about the music of the era and Big Brother.

The DVD box notes "XBox compatibility."

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

A fascinating look at the history of Big Brother and the Holding Company, one of the seminal psychedelic bands of the '60s, which featured legendary singer Janis Joplin. The DVD includes a documentary film along with complete performances, interview outtakes, memorabilia gallery, and more.


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