Bad Reputation Reviews
I turned to my friend Michael at the end of Kevin Kerslake's wonderful documentary about Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Queen of Punk, and general badass and said, "F*ck yeah, now THAT'S how you make a documentary!" Now let me back up a sec and put this into context. We had just seen the lackluster LOVE, GILDA earlier that day, so we were hungry for something with a little bite. BAD REPUTATION delivers the bite, chews up that bite, spits it out and bites down some more.
I've been a fan of Joan Jett's since her Runaways days. The way she held her guitar like it was the big d*ck we knew she had. The way she raised her eyebrows and smiled knowingly at the audience whenever she'd sing something suggestive. That raw, guttural snarl in her voice, sounding like a distaff Artful Dodger, and her commitment to the meat and potatoes pop/punk she mastered added up to an enduring legend who means way more to her fans than just the "I Love Rock And Roll" mega-blip on her résumé. She's no one-hit wonder, she's simply a wonder.
BAD REPUTATION, with its raw, Super-8 aesthetic and its expansive look at an artist who pushed and pushed to be heard when nobody wanted anything to do with her, felt endlessly inspiring despite it essentially being a puff piece. It's inherent by the fact that she's a success story against all odds. The filmmaker doesn't seem interested in her sexuality so much as her drive, her dedication to her music, and the one-of-a-kind relationship she's had for decades with Kenny Laguna, her manager and collaborator. They're like George Costanza's parents on SEINFELD with their hilarious bickering yet not-so-hidden affection for each other. The film is a lesson in perseverance and the beauty of concentrating on one's art instead of the noise which surrounds it.
Most of the story gets told by Jett herself, which perfectly shows off her no-nonsense style. She clearly means what she says. I loved how the films CABARET and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE influenced her own taste. She knew she was a brilliant freak like the people she loved onscreen. The documentary also features many of her peers, such as Debbie Harry, Billie Joe Armstrong, Iggy Pop, and those who have come up since and cherish her, such as Miley Cyrus. My favorite appearance is by Kristen Stewart, who played Jett in the film THE RUNAWAYS. Because Jett served as a producer on the film, Stewart recounted the advice Jett gave her when she wasn't quite perfecting Jett's style onstage. What she tells her is best saved for your personal viewing, but it's something which made me appreciate Jett's style and what makes her so authentic. I also loved Stewart's assessment of Jett's snarl, one she says is uniquely feminine. It's one of the better feminist dissections I've heard about Jett.
Make no mistake. BAD REPUTATION is as much of a feminist primal scream as SUPPORT THE GIRLS. They both demonstrate female empowerment in incredibly inspiring ways. Jett's journey has had its ups and downs for sure, but her belief in herself cuts through everything. She's never really offered more than loud, grinding, thumping songs with direct lyrics. Its bubble gum elements make her music more accessible than your typical hardcore punk band, but there's power in what she does and how she carries herself. Her image, her wail, the slight English accent when she twists words around in her mouth, the teasing lesbian vibe in her cover of "Crimson And Clover", and the fact that she's developed a bit of a hunch from staring down at her guitar all these years, make her this real, pure, eternal superstar. I went in knowing that if you want a movie about Joan coming out, you're not gonna like this one. With everything else Joan has done in her life, her support of the LGBT community, her dedication to her friends, her joy every time she hits the stage, it doesn't matter what she's into sexually. In fact, when you look at her early days with the Runaways, where the headlines were all about these little teenage sex bombs, you can't blame her for wanting to change the message.
BAD REPUTATION is a big, glorious, "F*ck You" to people who only care about salacious things and it's also a fantastically entertaining "F*ck yeah!" to those who love the freaks and punks who get lost in that wall of sound.