Wednesday, August 3, 2011

30 Day Movie Challenge - Day 16

Day 16 - A Documentary/Biopic

Today you get a two-for-one. Mostly this is because I'm anal and feel the need to show the difference between a documentary and a biopic, and how they are indeed, Andrew, very different beasts. My smug twatness aside, at the very least, it will show you the same story in two separate formats. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the story of the 70's all-girl rock band The Runaways.

Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways (2005)

First up, the documentary. In a very straight forward manner, the former band members--Cherie Curie, Sandy West, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox and Vicki Tischler-Blue--are interviewed, each giving their own personal history of their quick rise to stardom and brief stint as international superstars.

So basically, it's like a two hour episode of Behind the Music...only not as good. You might have noticed Joan Jett, founding member of The Runaways and later a superstar in her own write, was not a part of the project. Thus, all of the songs she wrote for the band were not allowed to be in the movie. This includes their signature song "Cherry Bomb". Yeah. Bummer.

There's something really unsettling about this documentary. Along with the petty squabbling between teenage bandmates, the band's producer Kim Fowley manipulated and verbally abused the girls, often pitting them against one another for his own amusement. And the bandmates each have their own version about which of the girls he slept with.

The Runaways were never that popular, at least not in the United States. The band--with several line ups--only lasted five years. Joan Jett, and to a lesser extent, Lita Ford went on to become famous musicians. Cherie Curie had brief career as a solo artist and actress. But as for Jackie Fox and Vicki Tischler-Blue (the band's second bassist and the director of Edgeplay) both went on to lead fairly normal lives in relative obscurity. Perhaps, saddest of all is drummer Sandy West who tearfully states "I don't think The Runaways should have ever broken up...It blows me away that we can't get back together and do a world tour" all while sporting the same hairdo she wore in 1976. 

It's not the best musical documentary ever. It lacks a certain finesse, and more importantly, the band's most famous songs. Plus, it left me with bad taste in my mouth. The ending was complete downer. True, their story was quite corrupt and fucked up and it needs to be told. But as you will soon find out, there's a better way to do it.

The Runaways (2010) 

Based on lead singer Cherie Curie's 1989 autobiography Neon Angel, a full-fledged biopic went into production twenty years later.

In 1975, rhythm guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) wants to form an all-girl rock band. In a stroke of luck, she meets the eccentric--to say the least--legendary record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) who likes the idea of a band composed of jailbait. Quickly added are drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve), lead guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and bassist Robin Robbins (a composite of Jackie Fox and Vicki Tischler-Blue played by Alia Shawkat). 

Still in need of a sexy lead singer, Joan and Kim go searching for a Brigitte Bardot look-a-like and find fifteen year old Cherie (Dakota Fanning) who is eager to escape her less than stellar home life and become a star! Sex, drugs and intra-band conflict ride The Runaways' backs on their meteoric rise to the top and crush them in their equally spectacular fall.


Being based on Cherie Curie's book and with Joan Jett as one of the film's producers, I have no doubt that the two girls were probably once lovers or friends with benefits or whatever they called experimental homosexual fuck buddies in the 70's. So yes, it's true. Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning kiss. And no, it's not a big deal. At least it actually happened and wasn't put in for mere titillation...well, maybe some titillation.

My one complaint about this film is the unexplored stories of the other bandmates. Sandy is played as sort of light-hearted stoner. Lita is a bitch and nothing but. And poor Robin, I don't even think she had one damn line of dialogue. Jackie Fox, the original bassist, refused to have her "life rights" signed away, which is unfortunate, because according to Edgeplay, there was plenty more going on than Joan and Cherie's tonsil hockey. 

So, all in all, neither film is the perfect story of The Runaways. The documentary is thorough, dark, and unfortunately morose. The biopic is flashy and glosses over many of the more sordid stories involving Kim Fowley, but still manages to satisfy. Both are essential viewing for fans of The Runaways or rock 'n' roll in general.

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