PLOT The life and times of Long Beach rocker Joan Jett.
RATED R (language and sexual talk)
PLAYING ON Amazon Prime, iTunes and video-on-demand
BOTTOM LINE A short and sweet doc on the renegade female rock icon, with a treasure-trove of old footage and interviews.
“Bad Reputation,” Kevin Kerslake’s documentary about Joan Jett, could have easily taken its title from “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” her irresistible shout-along song from 1982. Instead, the film is named for an earlier, slightly lesser-known track, one whose lyrics contain what could be Jett’s manifesto:
“A girl can do what she wants to do / And that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Jett, a longtime Long Beach resident, has been living by those words all her life, as Kerslake’s affectionate portrait shows. “Bad Reputation” traces the long, bumpy arc of this headstrong rocker’s career, including her stint with the proto-punk provocateurs the Runaways in the mid-1970s, her MTV-fueled rise to stardom in the 1980s and — after a long stretch of ups and downs — her 2015 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Built around vintage live footage (some of it ferocious) and interviews with a parade of admirers, “Bad Reputation” is more of an upbeat tribute than a deep dig. Still, it’s a valuable document on a dyed-in-the-wool iconoclast who opened doors for women, punks and rockers of all stripes.
Kerslake, a music-video veteran whose credits date back to the MTV era, collars just about everybody in the business to testify on Jett’s behalf. Pat Bolles, of early hard-core punks The Germs, and Kathleen Hanna, of ’90s riot grrrl icons Bikini Kill, both remember Jett as an early supporter and valued record-producer. Billie Joe Armstrong, of alt-rock heroes Green Day, blushingly admits he wanted to be “the male version” of Jett. Kenny Laguna, Jett’s longtime producer, bickers affectionately with his artist and at one point helpfully duct-tapes the ripped butt of her leather catsuit. One criticism of Kerslake’s interviews, though: He goes for quantity over quality, which means some noticeably poor audio and a few extraneous appearances. (Chris Stein of Blondie and Adam Horovitz of The Beastie Boys, for instance, add little to the conversation.)
“Bad Reputation” ultimately casts Jett as one of those stubborn rock acts who — like the Ramones or ZZ Top — chose a concept and stuck with it. With her snarling sound, black leather duds and “bastardized” (her word) bouffant, Jett is always Jett, no matter what the going musical trend. We tend to forget about such artists instead of admiring their fortitude and stamina. Until, of course, the world syncs back up with them and we become fans once again.