Tuesday 30 November 2021

On demand: "Joan Jett: Bad Reputation"

The documentary 
Joan Jett: Bad Reputation forms a useful primer on a figure whose music has appeared on numerous adverts in recent years, but who's never fully crossed over outside her native US. (Jett remains a one-hit wonder here, with only 1981's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" - a pinnacle of something - making the Top 40. Now that's what I call a bad reputation.) In its form, it's the usual tried-and-tested melange of talking heads and archive footage, although writer Joel Marcus and director Kevin Kerslake offer one screw-you worthy of their subject, aimed at the convention of documentary chronology. From the outset, their film plunges us into the moshpit of Seventies L.A., obliging us to feel out an emergent rock scene alongside Joan and her fellow Runaways, and to make sense of a world "that would give girls shit for playing guitar". Dodging the predations of big bad wolf Kim Fowley, this Joan finds a helpmate of sorts (given the conspicuous combover he sports at times, it'd be hard to say Prince Charming) in producer Kenny Laguna, who stepped in following the Runaways' implosion and helped Jett establish an ongoing solo career.

That tension - the tension any woman must feel trying to define herself within an especially male milieu - is at the centre of it; choice interviewees include Kathleen Hanna, Alison Mosshart and Miley Cyrus, the latter an outspoken delight on the subject of sexuality in pop. The framing is familiar, and it gets scrambled in its second half - taking us away from the music to give a cursory sense of Jett's outside interests - but it's steadied by good ears. One segment connects the dots between Sixties bubblegum and late Seventies punk, thrashing out a workable theory as to why these two apparently disparate subgenres meshed surprisingly well; one sweetens the spikes of the other, which could explain why "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and the title track remain more memorable - and, perhaps crucially, more hummable - than 75% of punk singles. Joan herself remains admirably unflappable; fun guests include Michael J. Fox, gracious indeed when discussing working with the subject on Paul Schrader's Light of Day, and Iggy Pop, treating us to several bars of the Hollywood Argyles' "Alley Oop".

Joan Jett: Bad Reputation is streaming on NOW TV, and available on DVD through Dogwoof.

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