Sydney Film Festival Review: Bad Reputation (USA, 2017) is one badass party with a rebellious Joan Jett

Joan Jett’s documentary, Bad Reputation had me from the moment she was told girls can’t play rock and roll music and she went ahead and did it anyway. The leather clad rocker has had a brilliant career, which this film celebrates. Bad Reputation is ultimately a fun and rollicking watch about a strong woman who is proud to be utterly true to herself.

This documentary is directed by veteran music video maker, Kevin Kerslake. It includes a veritable who’s who of music among the talking heads. Consider: Pete Townshend, Deborah Harry, Iggy Pop, Billie Joe Armstrong, Chris Stein, Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz (AKA Ad-Rock) and Miley Cyrus, not to mention actors Michael J. Fox and Kristen Stewart. They help in piecing together Jett’s career as a musician, writer, actor, producer, activist and all-round bad ass.

This film is like one big party. It briefly shows Jett’s beginnings when she asked her parents for an electric guitar for Christmas when she was just 13 years old. There is also the successes she had with her all-girl band, The Runaways during the seventies. When they disbanded, Jett put out an advertisement for three good men and formed The Blackhearts. One of her fans was Pat Smear of LA band Germs, a group that Jett would eventually produce. Smear would later play with Nirvana and Jett would accompany the Seattle group during their rock and roll hall of fame induction, standing in for the late Kurt Cobain.

This film is not a particularly balanced one with the subject often coming across as Saint Joan. But perhaps this is because Jett seems like a genuinely awesome human being. There are scenes showing her activism and support for animal rights. She is a vegetarian and a champion of LGBTQI causes, having supported Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace during her transition. Jett was also a big champion of Kathleen Hanna’s band, Bikini Kill and the riot grrrl movement.

Jett is an intriguing interviewee. She’s a tough and opinionated woman. Her private life is not discussed here save for an aside about music getting in the way of this. This film however, does celebrate her longest friendship and collaboration with Kenny Laguna. He was her producer and the two are as intimate as an old, married couple. Laguna says they were rejected by 23 labels for Jett’s solo album (this sounds very similar to the story of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22). In Jett’s case, they made the album themselves and sold it from the trunk of a car after shows at a point when this was unheard of. Their determination paid off because the record and eponymous single became hits.

Bad Reputation is a documentary that packs a lot of punch. It celebrates Jett’s musical career and hard work. There is no question that Jett was a trailblazing rocker making good in a musical landscape that was dominated by men and rife with misogyny. The Godmother of Punk and the Queen of Noise is an edgy and cool lady and when all was said and done and the credits rolled, we were on the edge of our seats wanting to hear a little more rebel yell.


Bad Reputation screened as part of Sydney Film Festival. For more details head HERE.


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