If The Runaways didn’t exist somebody, Courtney Love perhaps, would have to invent them. For sure there were primal femme rockers before the Runaways hit in the 1970s. For instance Wanda Jackson an archetypal singer from the 50s can be heard on The Runaways soundtrack early on in the film while then current queens of the scene like Suzi Quatro are mentioned.
The Runaways wants to be the kind of movie that’s known for getting details right rather than pleasing audience expectation. After all the two female leads played by Kristen Stewart (uncannily dead on Joan Jett) and Dakota Fanning (far exceeding anything you can imagine as Cherie Currie) have fans that weren’t even born when the events depicted here take place. The Runaways captures the thrill of creating a song on the spot (“Cherry Bomb”) not unlike Stone’s The Doors did with “Light My Fire,” only unlike that film The Runaways isn’t concerned with creating mythic heroes out of its increasingly good musicians. The real fan base for The Runaways may well be rockers in their 50s and older who tire at what passes for golden oldies.
The Runaways mashes down lots of history to focus on Jett and Currie with Kim Fowley as the main support. As handled by Michael Shannon the portrayal of the abusive Fowley elicits the trembling anxiety of confronting such a vile yet creative artist combined with a nasty screen villain. Although Fowley’s villainy consists of pushing the band off a creative cliff.
A more complete version of the same events are covered in a recent documentary Edgeplay, made by The Runaways later bass player Vicky Blue. That docu contains great home movie footage although the songs are all different than the ones heard in The Runaways, no doubt brought about by rights. So in Edgeplay we get video footage of The Runaways, dressed to the hilt in elastic 70s glam, doing a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll.” But in The Runaways you get “Cherry Bomb” plus over the closing credit roll are heard “Bad Reputation” and “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” although those higher priced ditties are associated with solo Joan Jett after her Runaway time. Further confirmation of the accuracy, at least in parts, of the characters on display is the documentary The Mayor of Sunset Strip about L.A. disc jockey and club manager Rodney Bingenheimer. In this film the real liife Fowley is particularly arrogant.
While were on a related film kick there’s also the all but forgotten 1987 Paul Schrader film Light of Day. In this rock drama, actually an interesting genre twisting that starts out as a musical journey and ends with mom getting cancer and bringing the family together a la Terms of Endearment, Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox are brother and sister who front a once successful band. As Joan says about the headlining band while sitting backstage “They used to open for us, then they got the red costumes and now we open for them.”
The Runaways is rock and roll in all its exploitive glory.