I was just expecting this to be a run-of-the-mill rock documentary about all things rock and roll, but it turned out to be quite a bit more…mostly tragic rock ‘n’ roll.
The Runaways were an all-female band formed in 1975 by drummer Sandy West (16 years old) and guitarist Joan Jett (17 years old), and they were then produced by a Malcolm McLaren-type character by the name of Kim Fowley (a much worse character than McLaren). From there three more girls joined the band including bassist Jackie Fox (14 years old), Lita Ford and Cherie Currie (both 17). So, they were all young, but reasonably proficient musicians.
The film was directed by Vicky Blue who replaced Jackie Fox after she quit, but lasted less than two years. She did a reasonably good job at directing, which was rough and ready, much like the band itself. Unfortunately though she chose to have music playing constantly throughout the whole film, basically with music in the left channel, and the interview audio in the right channel which got very annoying quickly.
The interviews with the band members were raw and delved deep into their past, with occasional breakdowns on camera as the members remembered some of the things that happened…or in Lita Fords case lots of cussin’ and bad attitude. The young bassist in particular survived some terrible things. In the years after the Runaways broke up the drummer had a very hard life and died in 2006 from cancer.
There were also interviews with Tim Fowley. This excerpt from Wikipedia gives you an idea of what he was like…
Kim Fowley, the band’s original manager, originally asked for $10,000 appearance fee in order to appear in the film, but eventually agreed to appear for free if he could sing his answers to questions, with a guitarist accompanying him. Vicki Blue agreed and this is how his appearance was originally shot. However, he then informed her that each of his answers was a song that would require a separate license. Fowley was shooting a segment for VH1 at about that time, so Blue sent her questions to the VH1 folks, who agreed to let her use their footage.
Yep, he was quite a manipulator, nutjob, and overall scumbag it appears. Lita Ford wanted to see him dead, which he did in 2015 from cancer, six years after this documentary was made.
It is a pity Joan Jett wanted no part in this, but she had her reasons. From Wikipedia:
“To me, the Runaways is my baby, so you have to understand my perspective. If there’s gonna be a Runaways movie, it should be about what we accomplished, the tours we did, the bands we played with, the people we inspired. I’m not gonna participate in a Jerry Springer fest, bottom line. With any band, you’re gonna have interpersonal conflicts, but if that’s what they thought the Runaways were about—about breaking a bass or putting on make-up—well, it’s very disappointing. Very, very disappointing. I wanted nothing to do with it because that’s not the band I was in. [The film] was a totally different take on what went down.”
I can’t really say I got into their music, which was pretty standard stuff. But they were reasonably big in the day (not superstars though), and were definitely big in Japan.
So it was a story of success completely over-shadowed by rock ‘n’ roll excess, abuse, and manipulation.
A biographical drama film was released in 2010 based on the Runaways story, and starred Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. I will have to look out for that.
Film count 2018: 34