September 24, 2018 Bad Reputation (Documentary Review)
There does not seem to be many women in Rock. Or, rather, they do not seem to get as much attention as their male counterparts. People may know AC/DC or Iron Maiden off the top of their heads, but their female or female-fronted band knowledge may be limited to Blondie or their Pop counterparts. Many have argued why this is, providing reasonable takes on the political and social aspects, as well as scorn and even ‘bio-truth’ arguments.
However, that has not stopped some women from smashing through the glass ceiling and making names for themselves. Whether it is Suzi Quatro, Tarja Turunen, L7, Lzzy Hale and more, women have managed to make a home in the Rock world. That in mind, the new Documentary Bad Reputation would like to put the spotlight on a particular, famous female Rock star. One of the founding members of the Runaways, and the leader of the Blackhearts, the Queen of Rock-n-Roll, Joan Jett.
Coming out to theaters and VOD Friday, September 28, 2018 through Magnolia Pictures, Bad Reputation talks to Jett herself about her career from its Punk origins in the 1970s through to today. This includes interviews with fellow rockers, from her contemporaries like Iggy Pop (Coffee and Cigarettes 2003) and Pete Townshend (Tommy 1975), to those she inspired, like Billie Joe Armstrong (Ordinary World 2016) and Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana series).
Wait, Miley Cyrus? She did induct Jett into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 after all. She is not even the most curious interviewee Director Kevin Kerslake (Fallen 2007. Electric Daisy Carnival 2011) and Writer Joel Marcus (Riot on Redchurch Street 2012) spoke to. However, the big question here is whether Bad Reputation does Jett justice or not. Does it live up to her no-bullshit style and give viewers the facts? Or will Rock fans have to look elsewhere?
Well, it certainly has style. They were not kidding about the archival footage. The film uses it as part of a backing collage to Jett & companions recollections. If Jett is talking about the mid ’70s Hollywood party culture, there will be clips of clubs, newspaper cutouts, and photos to back her up. Subjects and speakers are introduced through a title card that looks like it was made in a scrapbook than digital editing software. The film does occasionally cut to present-day Jett and the other interviewees, often with different camera filters. Otherwise, it speaks through its collages. It is rather like 2010’s Senna – the documentary on F1 Racer Ayrton Senna, only it tries to evoke the mood of the time as well as telling its story.
Bad Reputation is not just a hagiography either. Jett may be the lead attraction, but there is more than her on offer. There is the rise and fall of the Runaways, their controversial manager, Kim Fowley, and how her next manager, Kenny Laguna, started off in Bubblegum Pop. So, it is less a straightforward biography and more a life story with some extra flavoring. If it is not extra bits of history, it is a discussion or two on women in Rock, the fight against sexist attitudes, female sexuality, etc. It does not dwell on these points as it goes through Jett’s life. They are more like pauses for thought than digressions from the subject at hand.
The film talks to some interesting people too. Armstrong and Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna appear often and come off well when providing their thoughts. Cyrus makes for an energetic interviewee too. Yet, sometimes the briefest chats can make the biggest impacts. The notorious UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks briefly on what Jett’s music means to her, snuck in after clips of an anti-Trump music video by Blackheart Records signees FEA. It makes for a clear way to show how Jett’s work can appeal to both ends of the political spectrum.
That all in mind, it does not dive into this topic too heavily. Once it nears the end, it hops through Jett’s side projects and personal life rather quickly. It breezes through her animal rights work and setting up Blackheart Records. Haley only makes one appearance, as does Kristen Stewart (Panic Room 2002. American Ultra 2015) talking about playing Jett in 2010’s The Runaways. It presents interest-piquing topics as footnotes when they could have been full segments. As it is, it feels like the film runs on fumes once it reaches the 2000’s.
Overall, Bad Reputation is an interesting Documentary with enough information and visual flair to keep viewers watching. It does a fair job at presenting Jett’s life from the start of her career onward. Although, while it starts off expanding on the facts, it ends by pointing them out before rushing to the credits. Bad Reputation is worth a watch, but it does leave one asking for more. Thus, for these reasons, CrypticRock gives this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.