The creative yet undeniably indulgent rapper is an anomaly these days – especially ones who still try to sculpt meaning into their pre-processed beats, in contrast to just rhyming about “drugs, guns and hoes.” However, producer-turned-hip-hop superstar Kanye West is just the cure for the perils caused by the incarcerated Lil Wayne, the spiteful and ultimately irrelevant Cam’ron and, of course, Wheelchair Jimmy, or as he goes by now, Drake.
But West isn’t quite the angel himself; in fact, he’s an admitted alcoholic, and the infamous microphone-snatching incident at the Video Music Awards two years ago, in which he interrupted country-music sweetheart Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech — and rudely added, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” — didn’t quite help his reputation. Of course, this led to public outcry with even President Obama calling Kanye a “jackass.”
He has since made a stunning metamorphosis. The loud, outspoken Kanye of “College Dropout,” and “Late Registration,” and arguably “Graduation,” has since opened up to his fans, even going as far as to release an album entitled “808s and Heartbreaks,” an album which was exclusively recorded using auto-tune to add a robotic vocal effect symbolizing the cold, almost dehumanizing pain which stems from the end of a loving relationship. West has apologized countless times for his actions and controversies (which also includes his televised rant in which he claimed that “President Bush doesn’t care about Black people”), however, an almost-drunken eight minute previously unreleased track entitled “Never See Me Again,” features the same auto-tuned style of “808s and Heartbreaks,” but instead of preaching about love, the song acts as a nearly incomprehensible rant in which the rapper tells his audience not to “worry about me [instead] worry about you” and that’ll be a “long time before you ever see me again.”
Thankfully, West chose to trash the idea of making a “screw you” album, and instead started to craft a separate piece, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which in the end, helped him overcome depression and even thoughts of suicide (along with the fact that his production label “G.O.O.D. Music” sky-rocketed to success). The album hasn’t been released yet, due to massive delays, which he claims was to perfect his vision – this is turning out to be time well spent. However, about a month before the widely-hyped album, whose album cover is already being refused for distribution due to its obvious sexual content, West’s directorial debut “Runaway” premiered on three major music-related television channels.
“Runaway” stars Selita Ebanks as a fallen phoenix who is rescued by Kanye West’s character, Griffin. The couple falls in love, which is visually presented through a sequence of shots that are complimented from either portions or entire songs ripped straight from his latest album.
From the film’s first shot, which has Griffin running with open-road and orange-sky as his backdrop before the word “Runaway” comes on-screen, it is apparent that this is an art-house film that’s chock full of symbolism.
It’s interesting that the first line from Griffin, who remains almost completely mute in terms of actual dialogue, is “First rule in this world baby? Don’t pay attention to anything you hear on the news.” According to Kanye, who stayed on-air for a live question-and-answer session, he had decided to keep this line because it’s “funny” and that it was his way of addressing the constant rumors sparked by various media outlets about his overall character; he later explained that “it’s different on the other side of the camera.”
But the two scenes that stand out the most in “Runaway” are those for the songs “All of the Lights” and “Runaway (of course, where the title derives from – also the second single from “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”).” The sequence for “All of the Lights” is introduced with a young boy running with a torch which spews a red, gaseous substance, he runs at full speed, but in the next frame, is outfitted with a red Ku Klux Klan-esque hood (these are a common sight in this scene), which slows down his momentum. This particular scene also serves as a tribute to the deceased Michael Jackson, whom West openly admired and claims is “bigger than Jesus Christ.” Kanye later said that the red hoods, which remained perplexing at first, were meant to symbolize the “coats” that we all wear – “the slave mentalities.” In conclusion, the induction of red hoods was meant to destroy any inborn symbolism.
However, in terms of choreography, the “Runaway” scene (which West himself admits is his favorite from the film) tops all. It was shot in an old airplane hangar and one screen-caption is actually used as the album cover for the song’s single (available on iTunes). The ballerinas, which West hired straight from Prague, are simply immaculate and evoke a calming yet powerful image at the same time. This scene also does well in transcending into the film’s plot. The extras in this scene are completely oblivious to the fact that Kanye is performing and at the end of the number, he holds his hand to his heart. This is meant to represent the inner conflict that Griffin faces in his relationship to the beautiful phoenix.
Other songs include “Hell of a Life,” “Dark Fantasy,” “Blame Game,” “Lost in the World,” “Devil in a New Dress,” as well as short samples from “Power.”
In the middle of the approximately 30 minute film, Ebanks’ character asks Griffin, “All of the statues that we see, where do they come from?” Griffin quickly shoots back “An artist carved them….,” she replies “they’re phoenixes trapped in stone.” She later explains that it is because someone clipped their wings that they metamorphosed into cold and callous statues. Plot-wise, this is the most pivotal scene in the film, explaining the entire message behind “Runaway;” an artist whose creativity is denied is simply remembered as nothing more than a block of stone, which in and of itself is not considered art, but instead, it is the creator’s “touch” that adds the human-aspect, which is in essence, the root of all art.
The one problem that the film faces is that West, who has about three lines (which were written by Hype Williams), doesn’t do enough to put emotional emphasis on them – in fact, it just seems as if he is reciting the lines straight from the script. But the problem is not major, and his body-language compensates for the rest of the performance, and West even admits that he is “not on the level of Daniel-Day Lewis.”
Ebanks, however, who also has about three lines of dialogue, is the epitome of restrained beauty, and her performance, though silent, is incredibly powerful. On top of that, her costume is fantastic.
West says that he wanted “Runaway” to be “soulful” and psychedelic,” and that he did his best to channel the works of Tarantino, in terms of dialogue, and Lee in terms of pacing and artistic liberties. Surprisingly, the film, which breaks boundaries, is just as much the thinking piece as West intended it to be – chock full of symbolism that will take multiple viewings in order to fully understand. Kanye West definitely has the “Power” to sculpt a great film, so let’s have a “Celebration” because he has “Never Let Me Down.”
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