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LFF 2018: Bad Reputation
October 17, 2018
A new documentary on the life of Joan Jett only leads you to consider why it hasn’t this been done sooner. The career of one of Rock’s greatest artists covers both the genre as it moves through the decades, as well as the personal journey of Joan from her first band to the present day. The documentary isn’t just drugs, sex and rock n roll; though there is plenty, it’s about the movement of a woman in a male-dominated business and the struggle against sexism for dignity and acceptance.
The film uses a mixture of archive footage, home videos and interviews from the past and present to build a story of a woman whose aim is to play guitar in a band. Starting with the founding of the Runaways; their success with chart hits Bad Reputation and Cherry Bomb brings them worldwide success as well as ridicule. As a band of teenage girls their music is dragged down by the male gaze as in the instance where one of her band members poses for an ill-advised photo shoot; sparking the beginning of the end for the band breaking up shortly afterwards.
As the band members seek new careers, Joan teams up with a new producer – Kenny Laguna, who still produces her today. From here it shifts to her career in Joan Jett and the Blackhearts that doesn’t pick-up from the ground straight away, leading to the creation of their own label Blackheart records. In interviews, Joan and Kenny are wistful of those early days where they would print records and sell them out of a car boot after gigs. It’s a step down for Joan but she quickly brings herself back up with new hits Crimson and Clover, I Love Rock and Roll and Dirty Deeds leading her back into the charts.
The documentary starts to revolve around the activism work Joan does for her fellow musicians, organising benefit concerts and providing advice to newcomers. Despite the tough journey she’s had to go through, Joan can return the fight for acceptance to new artists, providing her wisdom and love. It’s a joy to watch interviews with bands from Foo Fighters, Green Day, Iggy Pop and Miley Cyrus talk about a positive role model without mentioning her gender. It’s a varied career packed into a tight and enjoyable documentary – aided in part by the amazing soundtrack which includes David Bowie, Iggy Pop, The Sex Pistols and many more.
When the documentary reaches the present day we get to dive into the relationships which have lasted, most of all her relationship with Kenny Laguna, who are more like bickering siblings than media partners. If there’s a drawback to the film it’s the interviews themselves turning into jumbled voices as Joan and Kenny talk over each other. Bad Reputation is an enlightening trip through some of Rock n’ Roll’s glamorous and grimy history, with Joan as your guide, creating a documentary that should satisfy anyone.
Bad Reputation is screening at the London Film Festival 2018 and will be released on the 26th of October.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam