Sydney Film Festival: Bad Reputation

Kate Young
11th Jun 2018

At the age of five Joan Jett’s parents told her “You can be anything you want”.  So at the age of 13, armed with her guitar, Jett took herself along to a guitar teacher who was adamant that she learn to play folk music telling her that “ girls don’t play rock n roll”.  What would have deterred most girls only drove Joan’s determination stronger, she would prove him wrong, and in fact she would spend most of her life proving the world wrong.

As part of Sydney Film Festivals “Sounds On Screen”, Bad Reputation demonstrates Jett’s devotion to proving all her “doubters” wrong as she exhibits success in her musical career along with her political and social activism.  

We follow Jett from her early days as 15 year old hanging out in LA at Rodney Bingenheimer’s disco with all the freaks and outcasts, where she’s discovered by Kim Fowley and introduced to fellow degenerates who would go on to become “The Runaways”.  Here we see how the women struggle as musicians to penetrate into the male dominated music scene. Constantly ridiculed and dismissed because of their age and gender, The Runaways were never taken seriously, even at the height of their fame critics were more inquisitive about their sexuality than the fact that they could tear up a stage like no other artist at the time could.

With the dissolution of the band, Jett hit an all time low. Exiled from the music industry and seen to be “trouble” (hanging out with the likes of Sid and Nancy didn’t help the image) It was a chance meeting with bubblegum pop musician turned super Producer Kenny Luguna, that resulted in the formation of The Blackhearts. Still feeling the wrath of the music industry, no one would sign the band and it was that parental mantra still sounding in the back of her mind, that saw the duo pool in all their own funds (including Lugana’s daughters college fund) and produce the record themselves. Success was inevitable and a huge resounding fuck you to the 23 record labels that said no.

Bad Reputation serves more as “homage” to Joan Jett than a candid portrait of the artist. Through archival footage and interviews with both Jett and Laguna,  some of the worlds greatest living musicians today (Iggy Pop, Deborah Harry, Billie Joe Armstrong, Kathleen Hannah) speak of how she not only influenced their music, but musical movements and herstory.

Jett is warm, funny and very charismatic. You don’t even notice that you’ve been sitting for almost two hours but why wouldn’t you want to spend that time with someone that is just exudes cool and is down right bad ass. Under that hard exterior is nothing more than a pussycat. As we see another side to Jett, her relationship with Laguna is something to be experienced, they are like an old bickering married couple that strives to be individuals but yet couldn’t survive without one another. There is so much love and respect for one another that defies all. Between helping launch people’s musical careers (Pat Schmeer, Bikini Kill, L7) to participating in numerous USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tours in support of the U.S. troops serving overseas, there’s the work she’s done with Miley Cyrus and her project for homeless LGBT youths, her work with PETA and animal rights and even helping out on the campaign trail.
However you see Joan Jett, one thing can be said for her, she is an innovator who revolutionized music, not only for women but for all musicians alike.  People have spent a lifetime telling her who she needed to be, but instead of changing herself to fit their mold, she was determined to change their way of thinking. Joan doesn’t care if she’s got a bad reputation; all she cares about is the music and her place in it.

Bad Reputation has a second Sydney Film Festival screening on 6.45pm Sunday June 17 at Event Cinemas