The Runaways

Film Review by JD Alvarez

Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll… if a movie ever captured the embodiment of that phrase it is The Runaways. The film chronicles the relationship between Joan Jett (Played by Kristen Stewart) and lead singer Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning), as well as the dynamic between the two main characters and fellow band member Lita Ford (played by Scout Taylor-Compton). The film leaned towards music and bad behavior over insight to the demise of the band. Perhaps that is due in part to the film producers not getting all band members authorization to tell the story.

The film begins with Jetts chance encounter with producer Kim Fowley at a local club in the San Fernando Valley [Rodney Bingenheimer’s]. The chance meeting had Jett engage in conversation with Fowley where her off the cuff idea sparked his interest in Jett. Fowley introduced Jett to Runaways future drummer Sandy West (played by Stella Maeve). Shortly thereafter, Jett and West found themselves practicing in a trailer in the San Fernando Valley. It wasn’t long before Fowley conceded they were missing something in the all-girl-band idea. The solution was to find and approach Cherie Currie. In the begging Currie was a Bowie-esque fashion queen with a moderate singing voice. In a short time span, Fowley added Lita Ford and Maggie Steele (Played by Alia Shawkat) as well as Currie to the mix. He needed them all to get that sound he knew would sell records. The film also chronicled the troubling relationship between the band and Fowley. Although Fowley’s motives were typically suspect at best, his rants as to what it would take for the “bitches” {as he affectionately called them} to be successful women in rock was solid advice. Advice that was poorly delivered, and not always received well by the band.

The Runaways started off slow, but found success overseas. Consequently, they cut a live album in Japan. It was at this time the film ventured down a path of destruction which is the human condition. Currie, now portrayed herself to be the reluctant rock star. She began the same downward spiral that so many rock stars fall victim to. That is, hearing about the life of a rock star, and actually having to deal with its reality. The bands success and notoriety caused Currie and Jett to spiral into battles with drugs and alcohol, questions about their morality, sexuality and for Currie her internal struggles with her loyalty to her family. The film documents Curries reluctance to being a rock star as the focal point as to why she left the band. Jett was portrayed as a determined musician, however it also portrays her as an androgynous, drug-using rebel… a traditional a-traditionalist so-to-speak.

The Runaways had a name that best described the band. They were teenagers that were literally runaways to some extent. They were all running from something, and to something. Currie went her separate ways in an attempt to regain her life and anonymity, while Jett embraced her love for all that is Rock n’ Roll.

In the end, the film delivered. Good believable performances by Stewart and Fanning. The story in itself was slow in parts, but made up in the reflection and contemplation of who these girls were, and who they were becoming. Contemplations and realities that were surreal in nature, but proved to be too much for some of the band members. On the flip side, the film falls short of going deeper into the riff between Ford and Jett. A riff that has lasted a better part of 30 years. There were parts that showed the out of control lifestyle that rock stars are thrust into. For that, it makes up for some of its shortcomings.

The film ended with a short and sincere call from Currie to Jett as she was being interviewed by Disc Jockey “Rodney On the Rock” [Bingenheimer of KROQ FM – Los Angeles). The interview took place after Jetts solo career was taking off (during the release of I Love Rock n’ Roll). The two said little, but as the film illustrated, little had to be said. Anyone who just loves Rock n’ Roll will appreciate this film.

IN REAL LIFE, Joan Jett was born in a Philadelphia suburb in 1958 as Joan Marie Larkin. She got her first guitar as a Christmas present from her father when she was 13; she spent most of her time after that writing. As a teen Jett was troubled, and showed signs of typical teenage rebellion towards authority; that and a boyfriend the parents worried about. As a result, her family re-located to West Covina, California. This provided Jett with the opportunity to pursue her musical aspirations. Jett was able to befriend some of her idols such as Suzi Quatro. Quatro was one of the first female rock stars of the era who played an instrument. Quatro was vital in Jett’s development as an artist. Jett demonstrated the impact Quatro had on her by adopting the signature Quatro shaggy hairdo.

Jett and West were founding members of The Runaways. They were an American all-girl teenage rock band from the 70s dubbed the Rebel Queens of Rock. The band is best known for the songs Cherry Bomb, Queens of Noise, Rock n Roll, Neon Angels (On the Road to Ruin), and Born to Be Bad. The band only lasted a few years, from 1975 to 1979. During their time together, they put out five albums [The Runaways in 1976, Queens of Noise, Live in Japan and Waitin’ for the Night all in 1977, And Now… The Runaways in 1978 and finally Flaming Schoolgirls in 1980 a post band compilation)

Soon after the band dissolved, Jett produced the Germs only album [“GI”]. In the spring of 1979, Jett was in England pursuing a solo career. She recorded three songs there with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of Sex Pistol’s fame. One of the tunes was the Arrows cover entitled I Love Rock n’ Roll. That song would eventually prove to be her defining work, and anthem.

Jett later entered The Who’s Ramport Studios to create her self-titled solo debut album. It was released in Europe on May 17, 1980 (German label, Ariola Records). American record label interest was non-existent. 23 different record labels rejected the album. So Jett released it independently on her own newly formed label, Blackheart Records. In 1981 the album was renamed Bad Reputation and re-released under Boardwalk Records.

Joan went on the form the labels namesake band Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and began writing and touring with the new band.

After a year of touring and recording, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts recorded a new album entitled I Love Rock n’ Roll, and the rest is history. Hits included ode to Tommy James and the Shondells Crimson & Clover, and the title track I Love Rock n’ Roll.

Jett had other hits and misses throughout her career. Some of the highlights included her ode to Sly & The Family Stone with her cover of Everyday People; and tribute to fellow punk-pal Iggy Pop with Real Wild Child (Wild One); and the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic Have you ever seen the rain.

POSTSCRIPT 

Currie – Cheri Currie continues to take the road less traveled. She still lives in the San Fernando Valley where she is an accomplished Chainsaw Carving Artist.

Steele – Micki Steele went on to play in several bands, including the Bangles and Slow Children. She continues to write and play in the music industry.

West – Sandy West did not have fortune smile upon her. She made varied attempts to continue her career as a musician, she released a solo album entitled “The Beat is Back,” and formed The Sandy West Band. None of these ventures went far. As a result, West was forced to work outside the music industry. West appeared in the film Edgeplay, a documentary about The Runaways. She described the work she was forced to take, mostly in construction. She also spent a little time as a bartender and a veterinary assistant. She also disclosed that she found herself having to get into criminal activity for money. By her own admission, West said she never got over the band’s demise. In 2005, Sandy was diagnosed with lung cancer which later spread to her brain, Sandy West died on October 21, 2006 at the age of 47 as a result of this condition.

Ford – Lita Ford went on to record as a solo artist and had some successes. More recently, she has been laying low out of the public eye. She recently explained in a trade magazine interview that she got married and had her second child. Her family has simply been enjoying the good life down in the Caribbean. Ford went on to say she hooked up with producer Greg Hampton, and work began on Wicked Wonderland (co-produced by Ford, Gillette, and Hampton), her first studio release since 1995. “The new album is extremely heavy, extremely sexual and she goes on to say it’s her best album yet.” In regards to The Runaways film, Ford said… “I just want people to know that I have nothing to do with that film,” Ford clarifies. “Joan’s manager offered to buy the rights to my life story for a thousand bucks. I thought that was pretty disgusting, we never even replied.” She goes on to say that despite their differences, “there’s a place in my heart for Joan that will always be there.”

Jett – Joan Jett continues to play with The Blackhearts who still perform internationally. She also produces and writes on a variety of projects. Jett is an executive producer for the film The Runaways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s