Kevin Kerslake (director)
26 October 2018 (released)
12 October 2018
Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of rock will know that women have a tough time, to say the least. Things have no doubt improved over the past decade or so but there’s still niggling bias and sexism that cut away at the progress.
However looking back to the 60’s through the 70’s and 80’s (as this documentary does) it was endemic, in all strands of the industry. Joan Jett with The Runaways, her own solo work and The Blackhearts broke through basically on their, and her, own terms.
The assault course of idiotic interviewers and a hostile press were givens for The Runaways in the 1970’s but handled with dignity and humour. This solid documentary from Kevin Kerslake is relatively light but candid interviews with Jett he spotlights the prejudices of the early days, plus sheds some light on a complicated character.
The Runaways were for a short while in the right place at the right time with the Los Angeles club scene in full-on people and party mode with rock going through one of its periodic upheavals. A maelstrom that brought them into contact with manager Kim Fowley. A singular man described as a made-up Frankenstein monster and one you feel could only have ever existed at that time and only in LA.
Fowley tapped into what he saw as performers like Bowie feminising their appearance and music, leaving a gap for The Runaways to play the harder edge rock generally seen as the reserve of men. The band blasted through to find an audience to leave a mark and make a statement only for internal disagreements and business issues to sink them.
The falling apart and fallout isn’t lingered on. What does endure from this period is the remarkable relationship Joan Jett has with her producer Kenny Laguna that has lasted to this day. There’s brutal, refreshing symmetry to their banter, platonic love and respect for each other, having no fear about being open and honest.
It’s a more or less conventional documentary – Kerslake does mess about between colour and black and white - chronological in its structure, with some excellent interviews and clips. There’s the inevitable experimentation with drugs and booze, as well as the down periods of outright rejection, the fragility of fame and fortune laid bare, though punctuated by massive worldwide hits. But running through it all is Jett’s commitment to her music, and the hard work of recording and touring.
Looked at dispassionately the complications that Joan Jett encountered were not unique; bad business decisions, drugs and booze are hurdles that can trip and overwhelm both experienced and newbies alike. However, she faced a unique set of obstacles because of her gender and because her bloody-mindedness that just irked the establishment.
The documentary leaves no doubt that Joan Jett is a massive influence that transcends genders. A definite influence on the Riot Grrrl movement that saw the likes of Bikini Kill rip up the rules, her never say attitude is something that anyone can aspire to.
Bad Reputation is on at the London Film Festival 13 and 14 October and on national release from 26 October.