I was 16 when I saw Joan Jett and the Blackhearts open for Aerosmith and I clearly remember my friend and I rolling our eyes at one another when we found out who the support act was: “Oh no, not ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll’!”
But then she took to the stage. Stole the stage. Smashed the stage. Joan Jett was a badass, and that’s what the documentary Bad Reputation proves.
Jett was only 14 when she met Sandy West, another female teenager who wanted to make loud music. They formed the seminal all-girls punk rock band The Runaways, which made it big overseas, particularly in England, where punk was ripe.
America wasn’t ready.
“I went from cute and sweet to slut and whore,”’ Jett says.
She got smashed up and spat on but she didn’t give up, her drive to be known as a serious rock female artist unmatchable. After The Runaways split, however, Jett drank herself sick, partying with the likes of Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy. She was so lost she contemplated joining the military.
Record producer Kenny Laguna, who was known for making “bubblegum pop songs” (“Yummy Yummy Yummy” I got love in my tummy, etc), turned everything around and Joan Jett became the lead of the Blackhearts, with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” playing on every radio across the country and throughout the world.
Director Kevin Kerslake’s Bad Reputation tells the story of Jett’s tenacious rise to fame, highlighting her place in history as a revolutionary female rock star … but here I have to self-edit, right? Because as the documentary proves, Jett’s more punk rock than pop rock, though her biggest hits might suggest otherwise, and the artists who speak best about her influence throughout the film are Iggy Pop, Blondie, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna – all punk rockers.
The documentary is full of intense live footage and still photography of Jett from her early days as a guitar-thrashing youth through to the present day, where she remains a guitar-thrasher, albeit now 60 years old. And it really doesn’t matter whether you like her music or not: you’ll like her.
This was a one-night-only showing at the Adelaide Film Festival and what a kick-ass way to close the festival, too. The audience loved it, laughing at Jett and Laguna’s enduring and utterly endearing relationship, and marvelling at how really hardcore the woman was, is, and will no doubt be on her upcoming Australian tour.
If you can’t make it to Mannum in January for the Sounds by the River concert, catch this film and rediscover a legend. It’s brilliant filmmaking and boasts one heck of a soundtrack.
See more Adelaide Film Festival stories, reviews and photo galleries here.