Wednesday, 17 October 2018

BAD REPUTATION - London Film Festival review

Screened at the London Film Festival, the new documentary Bad Reputation follows the career of the iconic lead singer of The Runaways, Joan Jett.



Not the most conventional subjects for a documentary, Bad Reputation follows suit with a different approach to telling the story of Joan's life and career. Her time with The Runaways and volatile relationship with one time lead singer Cherie Curry (as portrayed a couple of years ago by Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in the film of The Runaways) is only the jumping off point for this documentary and is covered within the first few minutes. This film, instead, tells Jett's story after the band had gone and she was blazing a path on her own.

It's indisputable that Jett is a living legend, and a popular one among musicians, lining up to tell anecdotes about her. Chief among them are Iggy Pop, Billie Joe Armstrong, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein and Kathleen Hanna, all happy to shed light on this mysterious and guarded rock and roll figure. There's a number of great moments discussed, from her run-ins with former manager Kim Fowley (described by Iggy Pop as "Frankenstein if Frankenstein was on crack") to hooking up with the 90s Riot Girl movement led by Kathleen Hanna, in many ways the next generation Joan Jett.

Yet despite her being held in high reverence, where the doc falls down is the failure to even try to crack Jett's steely exterior. This is one of those docs that's officially endorsed by its subject, and whilst Jett should be held in high regard, it's clear that there's many avenues that have been left unexplored, presumably due to the demands of Jett and her management. A warts and all biography was never needed, but some more insight into Joan's personal life would have benefitted the film. The bizarre odd couple relationship she has with sometime producer and friend Kenny Laguna obviously has a lot more to it than has been allowed to be told, and in the rare interviews she has with him present he is able to draw a different side out of her. There's nothing wrong with a star of the stature of Jett being protective of her personal life, but the lack of exploration here shows that the whole film has been carefully crafted under her guidance, and is quite benign as a result.

There's still some gems in the archive, like the scenes from Light of Day, the film she made in the 1980s with Michael J. Fox (I need to track that down), and her musical performances have a real energy to them; but as documentaries of rock and roll icons go, this is never more than serviceable.

Verdict
2.5/5

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