The world is one step closer to the second coming of the Godmother of Punk.
This weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, "The Runaways" -- starring "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart as the young Joan Jett alongside Dakota Fanning as Cherie Curie -- gets its world premiere. Music video director Floria Sigismondi makes her feature film debut with her own script that tells the story of the short-lived but highly influential '70s rock band.
The Runaways were a '70s teen group like no other. They were five girls who were as far as you could get from the sanitized, teen mag bubblegum pop of the time. The Runaways played loud, nasty unapologetic rock. They drank, threw punches, and could hang with the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. In Japan, the teenagers found the massive fame that eluded them in the U.S.
Yet at the dawn of the '80s, four years after their Sunset Strip birth, the Runaways were dead. As a band at least. The nine Runaway alumnae (they went through five bass players in their brief five-year career) had varying degrees success in their riot grrrl afterlife. Original bassist Micki Steele joined the Bangles, lead guitarist Lita Ford teamed up with Ozzy for a time, and original lead singer Cherie Currie ditched music for chainsaw art.
But Jett always stayed true to the rock path. Already a producer, songwriter, and killer guitarist, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts' #1 breakthrough, "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," finally made her a U.S. star in 1982. She seemed poised for even bigger things when she appeared in the 1987 film "Light of Day," alongside Michael J. Fox in the fictitious band The Barbusters, and performed the hit title song, written for her by Bruce Springsteen.
When the '90s came, the mainstream started moving on. But Jett continued to tour to the faithful, release albums on her own Blackheart Records label, and in the years since she has become a respected albeit criminally ignored artist.
Jett's hard-edged music and trademark swagger have had a resurgence in recent years. Her song "Bad Reputation" has been used on TV ("Freaks & Geeks," "American Chopper") and movies ("Shrek," "10 Things I Hate About You," "Baby Mama," and "Bad News Bears"), while Hot Topic era musicians like Avril Lavigne and Pink have appropriated her tough-girl attitude. Meanwhile, in a sure sign that marketers think Joan Jett is ready to be sold to a new generation of girls, Mattel has just launched a black-clad Joan Jett Barbie, sporting a guitar and the iconic shag haircut, that "captures the singer's independent attitude and dark beauty."
"The Runaways" film shines the spotlight back on Joan Jett, the pioneering performer who inspired a generation of girls to pick up their own guitars. And if there's any justice, Jett again will start getting the attention she deserves. At 51, she looks better than the 19-year old Kristen Stewart who plays her in the film. I'm not kidding. (Jett says sunscreen is her beauty secret).
This weekend Jett and her Blackhearts will play Sundance at her coming out party. A thousand Hollywood insiders will pretend it's 1976 and wait for the original riot grrrl to play her old band's signature, "Cherry Bomb." And, hopefully, when they all return from Park City, they'll remember to pick up the phone and make her a deal.
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