One of the great things about film in recent years is their increased (and somewhat begrudging) willingness to tell female stories. In some cases, it’s hard to believe they weren’t told before and in others it’s easy to see they couldn’t have been told correctly until now. But as others have said, seeing oneself on-screen is a powerful thing and women at the forefront have been grossly underrepresented in spite of comprising half the world’s population. That, of course, doesn’t mean they haven’t been doing great things — just that no one was sharing them with the masses. In Bad Reputation, audiences learn about Joan Jett‘s barrier-smashing music career.
Jett knew she wanted to be a rock star since she got her first guitar for Christmas at 13, but she didn’t realize there’d be so many roadblocks to making her dream a reality. When manager Kim Fowley united Jett, Jackie Fox, Lita Ford, Sandy West and Cherie Currie to form The Runaways, there weren’t any other all-female rock bands on the radio… because there was an actual policy regarding how many female musicians could/had to be played per hour (the number was more than zero but less than two). Still, the young women persevered and where U.S. critics derided their rise to fame, the world cheered and greeted them like The Beatles. But poor management divided the group and Jett was left to go it alone, which she did with a fiery passion that drove the success of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
This documentary is essentially the video compilation you’re shown at an awards dinner honouring someone accomplished… or at an anniversary party since as Jett remarks, music is her mate and she’s been devoted to their relationship since she played her first note. Still, seemingly made with Jett’s permission and cooperation, the movie has no bite. It recounts Jett’s musical history and glosses over her alcoholism, even referencing the 2010 biopic about The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and Michael Shannon. But if there was any dirt swept under the rug, that’s where it’s staying as the film is a celebration of her career, not a tabloid hack job.
However, this isn’t just a movie about an artist — Jett was a trailblazer when the only path for a female musician was singing with an acoustic guitar. A significant part of the picture focuses on how these women were tolerated as an opening act or small venue headliner, but disparaged when they set out to record an album and go on tour “like the guys.” “Cute” and “fun” turned into “slut” and “whore” almost immediately. There was no respect for female rockers and they decided not to care. In addition to interviewing Debbie Harry, Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop and Billie Joe Armstrong, Jett is centre stage telling her story in her own words, describing the crap they got for being women in a man’s world. And as potent concert footage is intertwined with the story, viewers realize their songs weren’t just rock anthems for fans to lose themselves in — they were reflections of her passion in all its forms.
It’s a bit false to skim over the bad times, but this movie reminds audiences that Jett is an inspiration to women everywhere — girls just want to rock!
Director: Kevin Kerslake