My May 2010 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 324.
HELLO DADDY, HELLO MOM
The Runaways purportedly tells the story of the band of the same name based on the autobiography of former singer Cherie Currie Neon Angel. Former guitarist Joan Jett executive produces the film. As a result the story is centered on those two members, instead of the whole band. That alone is always a problem for me. I tend to obsess about who was left out and why. I already knew that original bassist Jackie Fox wouldn't allow the filmmakers to use her story. Her name in the film is changed to Robin. Right away history is rewritten. She never existed. Of course, you never go to a Hollywood film expecting to find the true story anyway.
In The Runaways Joan Jett sees Kim Fowley at Rodney Bingenheimer's club and introduces herself. Fowley turns around and introduces Jett to drummer Sandy West. The two start playing together in the garage at West's parents' house. Fowley decides they need a Brigitte Bardot type singer so the search is on to find one at Rodney's club. He happens on Cherie Curie who is now dressing up as David Bowie after performing at her school talent show lip-syncing to one of his songs. Fowley asks if she can sing. She says she can. The next day she goes to try out for the band.
The Runaways were five teenagers who got together to start a rock band under the guidance of producer Fowley. The actual band stuff in The Runaways is the best parts. The band is rehearsing in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere. Fowley shows them how to react to hecklers throwing stuff at them. They play at a house party and get chased by the cops. Playing at a club and being put down by the older, male members of the headlining band. It is authentic feeling. If you've been in a band you can relate.
But the film veers off course with the more personal story of Curie. Her home life is a mess. Her mom moves to Indonesia leaving Curie and her twin sister Marie in the care of their alcoholic father. When she returns from touring she doesn't want to deal with it so she turns to drugs and alcohol. It affects the band and her relationship with Jett, which may be more than just friendship. Curie quits the band dramatically while in the studio recording an album. The film continues showing Curie's downfall and Jett's rise to fame with her new band The Blackhearts. This was about the time when I can tell I am getting bored because I found myself looking at the theater ceiling.
I expect a certain amount of liberties to be taken in a dramatic film based on a true story. In that case shouldn't the film being trying to get some sort of point across? Perhaps one about female empowerment or bonding or just a just a simple cautionary tale about the price of fame. The Runaways has some aspects of all those, but the characters are so watered down and bland it is hard to really care about it. Even Fowley's character though well played by actor Michael Shannon doesn't come off as crazy and flamboyant as the real thing.
If you are more interested in the band The Runaways, there is a documentary called Edgeplay - A Film About The Runaways. Aside from lacking an appearance by Jett, it gives more information about the whole band from the beginning to the afterthoughts. runawaysmovie.com, www.edgeplaythemovie.com
For a more chaotic family portrait than fictional Cherie Curie's turn to Prodigal Sons. Prodigal Sons starts off as a documentary about filmmaker Kimberly Reed's return to her Montana hometown. Reed was formerly Paul McKerrow quarterback for the high school football team. She is going back for her high school reunion. She is unsure how her former classmates will react. Yet, she is ready to face them. Her former classmates are all happy to see her. The reunion is a success. Except for Reed's adopted brother Marc.
Marc was held back a year while in pre-school. As a result Reed and he ended up in the same classes throughout school. By high school Marc was competitive with his more popular brother. At the age of twenty-one Marc was in a car accident that has left him with a brain injury. He has also never been told of his brother's new identity. Due to his adoption Marc has his own identity issues as well.
That is just the beginning of Prodigal Sons. As the film progresses the story gets more complicated and awkward. Marc's unpredictability and sudden bouts of violence strain the family's relationship. Reed never turns her camera off even when problems gets worse. It is an intense film to watch. Yet, I felt guilty at times thinking maybe this is the type of thing that should be worked out behind closed doors. I know we live in a voyeuristic world, but I can't help but feel that we don't truly always need to see every aspect of people's personal lives. Not matter how incredible or fascinating they are. prodigalsonsfilm.com
Fear Of Fiction takes on a fictional aspect of family intrigue. Sigrid Anderssen is a writer living the shadow of her famous writer father. She is unable to complete her novel. Instead, she answers a newspaper ad looking for someone to go on a cross-country trip. Red the guy who placed the ad wants to travel south, but Sigrid convinces him to go to Oregon by way of Canada. The two set off from Red's parents' house and immediately pick up a hitchhiker who happens to be Red's twin brother Tom. When Tom stays behind at the first stop, he then attempts to hitchhike in pursuit of his brother and Sigrid.
Fear Of Fiction is a double road movie. In Red and Sigrid's car they are dealing with each other and their personal demons. Tom gets rides from a collection of weird characters including a homosexual priest and Penn Jillette as garage music obsessed freak. When Sigrid, Red and Tom finally get to the lakeside cabin belonging to Sigrid's deceased father things seem a bit too strangely coincidental. brinkdvd.com
Neurotique is a collection of six short silent films. William Buck portrays the protagonist who has six different adventures in lust, debauchery and insanity. Each film is done in an authentic silent film style, but with a more modern edge. Instead of simply telling a story the films express the state of mind of the characters. Each is like a dream. Buck makes an excellent silent film character. He looks like an original silent film star.
My favorite is Neurotique No. 4. Buck goes to a fortuneteller who sees in her crystal ball that he has a hex placed on him. The fortuneteller tells him he must perform the "Black Chicken" to rid himself of the curse. Black Chicken consists of him taking off all his clothes and dancing wildly while the fortuneteller eats some chicken. She smokes a cigarette and he is cured. Brilliantly done and very funny.
The DVD for Neurotique also includes the bonus film Madalien The Small. Madalien comes from the sea and explores land for the first time. She ends up in San Francisco without knowing how things work. She tries to figure it out and decides she'd rather go home. naradenning.com
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.