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The Runaways

Oh, the 70's.   Of course, there was not just one decade of the seventies, there were many, united by a dubious color palette, a lot of high-backed vinyl chairs woozy with pattern, wall clocks of wood and metal that seemed to take on a life of their own, like tacky webs on living room walls, carpeting run amok in deepening pile, Bell rotary phones in a profusion of styles...well, you get it.   If you were there, it's all inexorably (I'm afraid) seared into your consciousness.   Cherie Currie and I had that much in common.  



But while I was preoccupied with baseball, going off to church once a week in my little pea green leisure suit complete with polyster shirt - if there was a God, he should have been offended - Ms. Currie and young Joan Jett were about to be a part of something bigger, thanks in  part to svengali Kim Fowley.   Fowley -  played in another inspired turn of madness by Michael Shannon, who pretty well stole the show in Revolutionary Road - was looking for a girl group to unleash on the world.    Joan Jett was looking to be in a band that actually allowed her to play the electric guitar.   Fowley put her and drummer and Sandy West together.    By the time Currie was brought aboard, mainly to be the blonde PYT fronting the group, the lineup was set.   And the rest is typically sordid rock and roll history. 



The Runaways is based to some extent based on Currie's Neon Angel:  A Memoir of a Runaway.    The film doesn't really give us a clear idea who our Cherie really is, but perhaps that's the point.   This despite the fact that she's the only one of the Runaways (the producers acquired the rights to the life stories to most of the women in the band, except for Jackie Fox and that bitch, Lita Ford - that's what you get for being mean to the person who writes the tell-all....) who gets any kind of back story.  

Cherie seems alternately rebellious and sensitive.   We see her early on stepping  to the stage of her high school in sparkly platforms, red spandex pants, gold lame' jacket, face painted to lipsync a favorite Bowie song.    She responds to the contempt of her peers - even more scary than any derisive words or objects being hurled at her is that sea of feathered hair in the audience; the 70's were nothing if not the long, dark night of the coiffure - with middle fingers raised in unison.

 But when spotted by Fowley in a club and told to prepare a song for an audition with the fledgling band, she dons a flowing white and pastel outfit and spins around her room like a little ABBA wannabe, lip syncing to Peggy Lee's version of "Fever."  Later, in a classic (read hackneyed) rock movie scene of road weariness, we hear Don McLean's "Starry, Starry Night,"on the radio as the band is driven to its next gig. Cherie isn't afraid to protest when someone turns the song off.   Ultimately, that awful Lita, ever the rock purist, climbs into the front seat and flips off the offending ballad with finality.

The other Runaway who gets considerable screen time is Joan Jett.  It's understandable, given Jett's post-Runaways fame and important role in the group.   But she's the executive producer of the film as well.   Unlike Cherie, we see nothing of her life before or outside the band.   It's as if she just emerged out of the vintage clothing store where she buys her first leather pants and jacket, some sort of immaculate rock and roll conception.  Kristin Stewart is pretty uncanny at times playing Jett, whether it's her stoop, her snarl, or the pronounced sweep of the right hand as she plays the rhythm guitar.  

Shannon is great as the sleazy Fowley, Stewart is good without overplaying her hand as Jett and Dakota Fanning is appropriately vacuous as the troubled Cherie.    However, the story might have been better served with a director and writer other than Floria Sigismondi, whose name also begs to be afront a band.   Her not so light touch is established in the film's first scene in which a drop of blood is seen to fall on the ground.   This, as it turns out, is Cherie's first period.  I think it's supposed to be kind of shocking, that drop of blood and the Currie sisters swapping of panties in a nearby fast food bathroom.  So, in case you didn't realize that this is to be a film primarily about a)women and that b)women for a good portion of their lives bleed on a monthly basis, well, consider yourself shocked and congratulate Sigismondi on her gritty realism.

There's also a couple of scenes with various of the Runaways roaming around the then-dilipidated famous sign up in the Hollywood Hills, looking down on the city and contemplating their future.  This might have actually occured, but given its context in the film, the big sign might as well spell CLICHE as HOLLYWOOD.   Currie's transition from rock and roll innocent to little girl lost is also abruptly and heavily played.   One moment she's saying saying goodbye to her sis (left to see after their drunk of a  father) the next, seemingly, she's snorting a line of coke off the floor before going out on stage in lingerie to perform on a Japanese sound stage.

However, I will give Sigismondi credit for the vertiginous scene that begins at the roller rink location of a Runways show and ends in a hotel room, the whole blurry, spinning episode a kind of brief affair between Jett and Currie.   It's all done to the Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog,"  and is pretty effective, all the more so for it's brevity and lack of resolution. 

Despite the well-worn progress of the plot, the film is pretty consistently entertaining and  always looks good, from the 1970's Currie household to the wardrobe.   Watch the film and then compare the scene with the performance of "Cherry Bomb" on Japanese television on which it was based:


Fowley would seem to deserve a film of his own, with Shannon playing the role.  I'm sure the band's former manager (the girls ditched him in 1977 and then sucessfully sued him for all rights to the name in the 90's) would be the first to agree.   If you're curious as to what the egocentric kook is up to these days, you can check his website:   


One guy from the L.A. music scene who's already had film treatment is legendary DJ Rodney Bingenheimer.  Rodney, as played by Keir O'Donnell, shows up at late in the film, interviewing Joan Jett as "I Love Rock and Roll" is thundering out of speakers across the country.   The documentary about him is called Mayor of the Sunset Strip, and is well worth checking out.  


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Comments

  1. Some of your readers may find my recent radio show, Tribute To The Runaways, an interesting listen. It explores the band's music, solo music and bands that have benefited from their groundbreaking work. It can be streamed for free at http://www.neatnetnoise.com.

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