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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Commentary On The Runaways Movie



This isn't designed to be an outright critical review of last year's biopic The Runaways other than to comment on the sterling performances by lead actresses Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart as Cherie Currie and Joan Jett respectively. A note of cheers to Michael Shannon as well for his gonzo portrayal of L.A. music mogul Kim Fowley. After catching Fanning in Dear John and now this overdue sit-down with The Runaways, I believe we have a serious talent of longevity on our hands. I'm not exactly a fan of the Twilight series, however, credit where it's due to Stewart. I was particularly blown away by her rowdy, sympathethic and seductive street urchin depiction of Joan Jett.

I do have to note, however, that despite The Runaways coming off as a very solid falling from grace rock story, there was something remiss in just focusing upon the stories of Jett and Currie, even though many argue they were the main figureheads of The Runaways. Lita Ford hadn't yet grown into a rock superstar of her own, however, her role is rather delineated in the film to the point it was slightly criminal the film doesn't even acknowledge Lita's rise to success in the film's end notes.

I didn't recognize Scout Taylor-Compton (i.e. Rob Zombie's Laurie Strode) playing Lita, so major kudos to her when called upon to fill the frame with hot guitar wailing and a ferocious attitude in the recording studio. How accurate is it, though? The very little the real Lita mentioned of her time in The Runaways to me in an interview (and obviously with most of her press save for her participation in a recent Runaways biography), you get the feeling there was indeed tension between the band members and we only have this film and Cherie Currie's biography to determine fact from fiction.

Some critics, though generally favorable to the film, have mentioned how they would've preferred it focus strictly on Joan Jett's life. Well, suffice it to say, The Runaways gives equal measure to both Currie and Jett and it does so with such effectiveness you feel their entwined lives in and out of the band. It's a given a lot of the film is Hollywood embellishment, so the true relations between the real Jett and Currie are theirs and theirs alone. The film taps as close into their coupling as director Floria Sigismondi dares, which is plenty enough. The closing scene of Currie working a regular Jane job (long departed from the band) while Joan Jett has reached her superstar level with "I Love Rock 'n Roll" is cathartic, particularly after Currie awkwardly calls in to a radio show just to say hi to Jett and then smiles girlishly at the triumph of Jett's crossover fame.

Again, good Hollywood material and The Runaways is well carried by an energetic cast, a slamming soundtrack mixed by Runaways songs (such as "Cherry Bomb," "California Paradise," "Queens of Noise," "Hollywood" and "Dead End Justice") with The Stooges, David Bowie, honky tonk blues and other early seventies period cuts. The live sequence showing The Runaways ripping through "Cherry Bombs" at a Japanese performance is red-hot concert choreography.

The film does have a hurried feel for awhile until it has the band assembled and then it quickly becomes a morality tale as Dakota Fanning pours out more than her years at the time in depicting a 15-year-old Cherie Currie who sells herself out due to her tailspun immaturity that has been exploited by Kim Fowley. The opening sequence showing Currie getting pelted with trash by her peers at a talent show in which she replicates David Bowie's alter ego Aladdin Sane and lip synchs "Lady Grinning Soul" is monstrous. If the real-life Currie truly flipped off the student body en route to winning the talent show, then it's a rock moment worthy of the film's regaling treatment. Particularly effective is the scene where Fowley employs a group of young boys to throw trash at The Runaways as a training exercise for what they are to face as an all-female heavy rock act. The dog turd landing on Sandy West's snare is all-indicative.

While it might've been more prudent to have deeper insight into Lita Ford and drummer Sandy West (Jackie Fox refused to be acknowledged by name in the film and thus we have the fictitious bassist Robin, nevermind all of Jackie's true-life replacements), The Runaways does serve up a lessons learned story in which a host of young ladies had the fortitude to take on a man's world and paid the price for it. The Runaways were important for many reasons, yet looking beyond the obvious, Lord could they rip. The Runaways and Queens of Noise albums are essentials for any serious rock fan--might I suggest investing the extra bucks for The Mercury Albums Anthology which gives you both albums plus Waitin' for the Night and Live in Japan. Perhaps a little more roughshod than future disciples Girlschool, The Runaways are nonetheless history unto themselves. It's right they did this film and they did right by the band--to certain latitudes. Too bad they were left to smolder 'til death.

Lured by a man who snakes them as a man would, the implied nuance of The Runaways indicates the music business is alluring to many walks of life. Those who want it the most stand to be served up like cheesecake and ultimately devoured to nothing by sleazy powers engineering social change as a mere guise for their ruthless capitalism.

1 comment:

Jones said...

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