Classic Rock

Bad Reputation

Dir: Kevin Kerslake


Painlessly definitive Joan Jett documentar­y fleshes out often overlooked icon.

Those who might pour scorn upon the subtitle How Joan Jett Changed The Face Of Punk Rock ought to check their reality, because when placed in the illuminati­ng context of Kevin Kerslake’s nicely paced documentar­y feature it’s pretty clear that Jett changed rock itself. The whole shebang. Forever.

It’s always been easy to miss Jett’s intrinsic importance; she’s the strongwill­ed girl next door, nothing flashy, just taking care of rock’n’roll business. Hell, even Kim Fowley, the Sunset Strip Runaways’ Svengali who famously ‘discovered’ the former Joan Larkin when she was 14, was so focused on his blonde bombshell/soft-porn construct Cherie Currie at centre stage that he failed to recognise the true, future-defining star in his midst, the leather-clad snarling sneer on rhythm guitar, to his ultimate cost.

Bloodied but unbowed by her bruising Runaways apprentice­ship, Jett hooked up with shrewd hook machine Kenny Laguna and, battling a business and press steeped in misogyny, played grass-roots shows, scored hits and inspired a postfemini­sm, post-punk generation, many of whom are here to pay tribute (Billie Joe Armstrong, Kathleen Hanna, Ian MacKaye, Miley Cyrus, Alison Mosshart).

Unexpected­ly paced, Kerslake’s engaging portrait dismisses childhood in a heartbeat; Joan’s life begins when her parents gift her an electric guitar that hijacks her imaginatio­n, she hangs out at Rodney Bingenheim­er’s English Disco (LA’s glam-era equivalent of Sally Bowles’s Cabaret), meets drummer Sandy West, the aforementi­oned Fowley and ultimately Cherry Bombs a drab pre-punk wilderness. The Runaways story romps by in surprising­ly short order, before the hard graft to I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll pay-dirt takes us about halfway into the 94-minute running time. Eye-witness testimony is starry and largely definitive until now (archive Bowie and Fowley, today’s Iggy, Cherie, Harry/Stein, Townshend) with Jett’s voice a candid constant.

While her own inspiratio­ns are given derisorily short shrift (Suzi Quatro is mentioned once in passing), Jett’s legacy is highlighte­d, especially in the second – most interestin­g to fans – half of the film, where we learn more about the unchanging, emotional enigma at centrestag­e: the LGBT, animal rights, feminism activist who visits war zones to sing for the troops; who recorded with The Gits following Mia Zapata’s rape and murder…

Actually, on this excellent evidence it seems Joan Jett changed way more than just rock.

Ian Fortnam

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