Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Run away from The Runaways

This weekend I finally got around to watching Floria Sigismondi's movie The Runaways. I've been a huge fan of the band since I discovered their Live in Japan album when I was 13 or 14. In a rare fit of fandom, I even got Joan Jett to sign my vinyl copy of it 15 or so years ago (I brought it to a Bikini Kill show that I'd been tipped off she would attend). I read Cherie Currie's memoir, Neon Angel, when it first came out. I watched Edgeplay, the doc about the band directed by one-time bassist Victory Tischler-Blue, aka Vicki Blue.

All this to explain why I carefully kept my expectations low in order to thwart disappointment. Epic fail: The new movie really bugged me.

Not only did Jett not contribute to Edgeplay, but she prevented Tischler-Blue from using the band's music. No doubt because she wanted to focus on a more high-profile biopic. And in fact Jett exec-produced The Runaways, which is based on Currie's book. Needless to say, Jett comes across very well in the new movie — she even does the DVD commentary with Kristen Stewart (who plays her) and Dakota Fanning (Currie). What a cool rebel she was! It was only about rock & roll for her! She was the driving force in the band!

Except I doubt anybody would remember the Runaways if they hadn't been, you know, a band, and not a Joan Jett vehicle with special contributions from Cherie Currie. But those two completely dominate the movie, and the only other person to be fleshed out is Kim Fowley (played by Michael Shannon, who really looks like Eddie Izzard in the role). We get a lot more Fowley than any of the other Runaways.

Fine, so apparently Jackie Fox (the longest-serving bassist) didn't authorize the filmmakers to use her in the movie, so we get a composite bassist named "Robin" instead. I understand, legal stuff, etc. (Fun reading: Fox's blog about Runaways reminiscences.)

But what about drummer and cowbell master Sandy West, or guitarist Lita Ford? West gets some lines and air time. Ford gets to pick a brief fight with Currie. Weird, I heard that the animosity was between Ford and Jett.

And then there's the lame music-video aesthetics. Too many hazy, dreamy shots of girls walking lost in deep thoughts — because that's what girls do, even the ones in a rock band. Okay, I exaggerate here because we do get snapshots of life on the road. But the live music scenes have no zest, and Stewart applies her usual indolent slouch to everything. Typical is Stewart and Fanning's underwhelming version of "Dead End Justice." The Runaways' own "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," the song requires dramatic singing for its completely over-the-top "girls in juvie" storyline; in the movie, it's not half as intense as on the record. Where is the rage? Where is the desperate energy? Currie has a great snarl when she sings this song, you can just hear it. So awesome.

To add insult to injury, the movie ends with the obligatory "what happened to them" info. But we only hear about Jett, Currie and Fowley! I seem to remember Lita having quite a career as a hair-metal guitar goddess in the 80s. Rings a bell? West died of cancer in 2006 — that didn't warrant a note? Perhaps it went by so fast that I missed it. This is especially galling since West had a really rocky post-Runaways life and was the one former member who really wanted the band to get back together, something she poignantly expressed in Edgeplay.

Oh well, we'll always have this.


Anonymous said...

Posts like this are why I read your blog. What'd you think of other recent rock biopics like [Germs] and [Joy Division]?

Luke N. Atmaguchi

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I haven't seen the Germs one yet. I liked Control enough, but I don't remember all that much from it, so it didn't make that much of an impression on me. It's always tricky when the center of a biopic is someone like Darby Crash or Ian Curtis, which requires a lot of ACTING. The performance always feels like award bait. Unfair, I know, but...