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Hello Daddy, hello Mom! I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-CHERRY BOMB!


The Runaways were an all-girl 1970s hard rock/proto-punk band which launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Although the band was largely dismissed at the time as a novelty act by US audiences, they gained a large following in Europe and especially Japan, and have since been credited as being important pathbreakers in allowing women into hard rock as legitimate songwriters and musicians, and have also been viewed as a seminal influence on the then-emerging genre of punk rock. Their best known song is the rebellious teen anthem "Cherry Bomb," which Jett wrote for lead singer Cherie Currie as a pun on her first name.

Rise

The Runaways were originally founded as a collaboration between guitarist Jett, drummer Sandy West, and teenage songwriter Kari Krome in 1975, under the guidance of infamous producer Kim Fowley. Originally the group played LA clubs as a power trio of Jett, West, and bassist Micki Steele, who would later gain fame as a member of The Bangles, before finally settling on a lineup of Jett, West, lead singer Currie, lead guitarist Lita Ford, and bassist Jackie Fox in 1976.

The Runaways were initially viewed, especially in the US, as a Spice Girls-like gimmick, manufactured and controlled by Fowley, in which attractive young women were assembled into a "band" in order to sell records and concert tickets. It did not help that Fowley had a long history of ghostwriting songs for famous acts, and that he heavily pushed the band's image as "jailbait on the run."

Indeed the band first drew attention for their scandalous outfits and sexually suggestive antics on stage despite the fact that most of them were only 15 or 16 years old (and as young as 14). Indeed, in the early years, lead singer Cherie Currie often appeared on stage wearing little more than a corset, stockings, and garter belt. However, in truth, despite their youth the band members were accomplished musicians, and actually wrote almost all of their songs themselves.

Fame

First signed by Mercury Records in 1976, the Runaways released their self titled debut album and toured the US for a year, opening for such bands as Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, the Ramones, and Van Halen. It was on this tour that the girls each developed a distinctive "look" that they would maintain throughout the band's run. It is said that Jett modeled herself after Keith Richards and Suzi Quatro, Currie took her cues from David Bowie, West patterned herself after Queen drummer Roger Taylor, Ford was a cross between Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck, and that Fox imitated Kiss frontman Gene Simmons.

In 1977 the band cut their second album, Queens of Noise, and embarked on a tumultuous tour of the UK, where they dove into the emerging British punk scene and no less than three members of the band got arrested. They then traveled to Japan, where their arrival created a huge sensation Jett would later compare to Beatlemania. At the time of their arrival, the Runaways were the 4th best selling foreign musical act in Japan, after only Led Zeppelin, ABBA, and Kiss. In Japan the girls did an extended run of concerts, appeared on numerous TV specials, and released a live album, Live in Japan.

The pressures of a rock n' roll lifestyle proved too much for the ambitious and studious Fox, however, and she left the band shortly before the end of the Japan tour, replaced on bass first by Jett, and then later by new member Vicki Blue. Currie left the band as well shortly thereafter, and was not replaced, her vocal duties being assumed by Jett as the band's regular lineup went from five members to four. The band pressed on cutting their third studio album, Waiting For The Night, at the end of 1977, and embarking on another World Tour with The Ramones.

Breakup

But by mid-1978, the band was beginning to fall apart, due to conflicts over money and creative control with their manager Fowley. Bassist Vicki Blue left the group (replaced by Laurie McAllister), and finally the band broke with Fowley, cutting a final studio album, And Now...The Runaways, under new producer John Alcock before disbanding for good in 1979. It was later revealed in the 2004 film Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways, that repeated sexual and verbal abuse of the band members by Fowley and co-manager Scott Anderson played a major roll in the departure of Fox, Currie, and later Blue and in the eventual breakup of the band.

All members of the band landed on their feet. Jett in particular went on to become a huge star and rock goddess as the frontwoman for her own band "Joan Jett and the Blackhearts," thanks to her 1982 megahit "I Love Rock N' Roll," which is included on almost every list of the top 100 rock songs of all time. Lita Ford also had a notable career as a heavy metal queen in the 1980s, successfully combining power chords and wearing almost nothing on stage to sell several albums platinum, although her music and legacy have not aged nearly as well as Jett's. Fox went to UCLA and Harvard Law, Currie had a moderately notable acting career, Blue became a successful television producer, and West continued to tour with her own group, the Sandy West Band, throughout the 80s and 90s.

Although the Runaways were together for only a few short years, recognition of their legacy has been lasting and has only grown with time, and numerous female rock acts continue to cite the Runaways and their music as a profound influence. Jett obviously went on to become a huge icon, and later was the first woman to found a record label, but Sandy West is also considered a major pathbreaker in drumming circles as the first real female rock drummer.

Meteors are not needed less than mountains.

"Promote the music, not your crotch!"

A dollop of menstrual blood falls onto the sidewalk just outside the Pup 'n' Fries. It's 1975. Life's about to change for some teenage girls and the music industry will follow, though at a slow pace.

The 1970s were like this, filled to bursting with bad lighting, trashy music, and terrible clothing. Darkness envelopes Sunset Strip. The gang hang out behind the as-yet-unrestored Hollywood sign. Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) share alcohol from a squirt gun. Girls, guitars, garbage cans, and shadows flash before the audience like seedy out-takes from Guy Peellaert and Nic Cohn's Rock Dreams. Director Floria Sigismondi shoots more than one scene through chain link fences. She loves the extreme low angle; The Runaways features many excellent shots of ceilings. The movie actually works best in its early stages, gradually connected snapshots of lost little girls in a lost era.

Promoter and producer Kim Fowley gathers the various Runaways, each with rock star dreams, and shapes them into his sleazy jailbait fantasy. Much of the film's conflict grows from differing visions of what the Runaways should be.

Michael Shannon plays Fowley as a man who knows how to market attitude and get headlines, but otherwise lacks redeeming qualities. He's sleazy, exploitative, self-obsessed, and slightly deranged. I don't know how much of this is reality; in a recent interview, Fowley denied much of it while sounding very like the character we see onscreen. I wanted to deck him and then wash my hand. At the same time, the mixed messages the girls receive about empowerment, sex, and hedonism reflect the ones girls were receiving and that girls receive in our broader culture. Looking at the current crop of young female pop stars, one sees some things remain less changed than we might like.

Stewart gets Jett's mannerisms and attitude down pat. She's by far the most interesting member of the group and the best thing on the screen. I never cared that much for Jett's solo career, but I can appreciate what we see here. She's an earnest rebel, appropriating and transforming a male definition of cool, James Dean with curves and a layered shag.

Fanning as Currie proves less riveting, but she's strong enough to hold her substantial screen time. Her story takes a more familiar form, rock star clichés, as her ego and appetite for self-destruction grow.

If you know this film only peripherally, you likely know that (1) it's about a 70s band that helped blaze a trail for female rockers but which went seriously unappreciated in its day and (2) Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart's characters have sex. Actually, the director shoots that scene in hazy drug-o-vision, allowing more to be suggested between her underage actors than the film actually shows, but also blunting whatever meaning the physical aspect of their relationship might have. Far more successful is the scene where Jett teaches Sandy West (Stella Maeve) to masturbate. It's shot comparatively tamely and played for raunchy laughs.

Riley Keough does admirably as Cherie's sister, left behind with a dead end job and an alcoholic father as her sister becomes a million-seller in Japan and a novelty act across the states. The film also features an interesting bit of stunt casting; former 70s child star Tatum O'Neal plays Currie's mom. The other actors put in fair to good performance, but they haven't been given much to do. The remaining Runaways spend too much time in the background. Jackie Fox (now a lawyer, and unwilling to participate in the movie) is entirely absent, replaced with a made-up bass player who receives little personality or screen time. The invented girl also stands in for the band's many replacement bassists. The film also gives short shrift to Lita Ford and Sandy West. They have some presence in the film, but both lack a "where is she now?" credit, despite both having solo careers (Ford's is better-remembered; West's was cut short by cancer).

The film shows us a hurried version of the Runaways from their start to Currie's departure. We then fast-forward to a point several years later. As the final credits note, the band continued for a couple more years without Currie, and they released albums. Currie actually had a passable film career before being laid low by drugs. These elements had no place in the film, which has been shaped into a failed, not-always-Platonic love story between Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. Near the end we hear the latter's remake of "Crimson and Clover" playing on the radio as Cherie listens and smiles.

Individual scenes have conviction, but they're very short, and this fact hampers the character development the story demands. Much has been made of the actors singing and playing their own instruments; I'd rather they'd lip-synched and been given more opportunity to act. Like much pop music I found The Runaways engaging, eyeball-kicking and ear-pleasing, but ultimately, lacking a little in lasting effect.


Director: Floria Sigismondi
Writer: Floria Sigismondi and Cherie Currie

Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett
Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie
Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley
Stella Maeve as Sandy West
Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford
Alia Shawkat as Jackie Fox Robin
Riley Keough as Marie Currie
Johnny Lewis as Scottie
Tatum O'Neal as Cherie's Mom
Brett Cullen as Cherie's Dad
Keir O'Donnell as Rodney Bingenheimer



The film carries a 14A Rating in Canada. I derived some amusement from the presence of surprised young Twihards who'd come with their parents to catch Kristen Stewart's cool movie.

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