The Runawaysby Tamlin Wightman / 06.10.2010
In front of me is a platinum blonde feline in lingerie oscillating in front of her microphone. She channels David Bowie and Bridgette Bardot, while the glowering Cat Woman in a red leather jumpsuit next to her is more Suzi-Quatro and Keith-Richards. Electric guitar in hand, the Cat has hair and eyeliner as black as her surname implies. They’re ebony and ivory, the yin to each other’s yang, yet both share a dangerous magnetism. And they’re only teens.
There are many lone, older men in this cinema and I find it disturbing, especially as they squirm around in their theatre chairs during the more raunchy scenes in tonight’s showing: The Runaways. Staring at me is Cherie Currie, played by Dakota Fanning, and Joan Jett, Kristen Stewart. It’s okay for me to be here, I reckon. I’m a girl and this flick’s all about girl power. In fact, my friend and I are the only females in this Sunday evening audience at the Labia on Kloof, Cape Town. Odd, no? Inception is playing in the room next door. Surely that’d be the better choice for heterosexual males?
I try push this observation out my mind and watch the film. It’s good to see girls as kickass rock stars up on stage instead of frenzied egghead groupies throwing their bras at sweaty all-male bands, even if Dakota’s suggestive Taylor Momsen/Courtney Love-esque lingerie performance is a little trashy. But all in the name of rock ‘n roll. Perhaps I should be less judgemental. It’s awesome men are embracing this anomaly, this girl power-ness, but in the back of my mind, I can’t help think they’re lured more by the presence of rebel nymphets running amok in underwear and tight leather. And of course – here’s when the blokes get extra twitchy – by the make-out scene between the two leads. At this instant, one man turns his head around to peer at me through the partition in the chairs and grins. Consume your porn at home next time, please.
Somehow, because it’s got a rock ‘n roll edge and a story based in history, after the 1970s all-girl rock band of the same name, gents think it’s alright to be here. I wouldn’t have this reaction, probably, if it was Charlie’s Angels, Lara Croft, even Whip it! So it must be the age factor, that these actresses (like the people they play in the band) are adolescents. Calling Humbert Humbert. Over.
Before the film, I had never heard of The Runaways. In fact nor had the actresses who played them. Turns out they were the world’s first ever successful all-girl rock band. They did what no one else thought they could. It was the time of the “girls don’t play electric guitar” attitude, as one teacher tells Jett in the movie. The film, directed by Floria Sigismondi, previously director of music videos for the likes of Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, The Cure and The White Stripes, details the rise of these Southern Californian rebel chicks to rock stars in a band that paved the way for female musicians for generations to come. So, being stuff of legends, the perverts are off the hook.
The best performance is from Michael Shannon who plays Kim Fowley, the Svengali-like record producer who helped evolve the group into the sensation they became. In studded choker and face paint, he’s pushy, mean and explosively unpredictable. You can’t stop looking at him. He screeches at his underage pupils: “sing like you want an orrrrrrrrrrgasm!” and “I’m gonna teach you to use your cocks!” Shannon, who’s also starred in Vanilla Sky, 8 Mile and Revolutionary Road, does crazy well and reminds one of Robert Downy Junior or Johnny Depp.
Fanning’s role as Currie grabs more attention than Stewart’s Jett and seems to be the main thread weaving through the story – from her entrance into the band to her downward, drug-addled spiral as Cherry Bomb and final departure. It’s drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll, the usual story, but watered down. I guess Fanning was only fifteen during filming and having her in full-out sex scenes would be, well, indecent. It’s a shortcoming and fails to truly depict how far over the edge The Runaways actually went. It ends too soon for my liking, too. Which is true to the band itself, as it dissolved after only four years. It’s one of those I-wish-I’d–been-around-then moments for me and I rush home and start spray painting my own Joan Jett-inspired Sex Pistols t-shirts – while the men in the cinema linger long after the credits have rolled by, jackets over their crotches.