Program Length: 106 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English SDH, English
Girls don’t play electric guitar. – Joan Jett’s high school music teacher
Men don’t want to see women anywhere except in their kitchens or on their knees, let alone onstage holding guitars. – Kim Fowley
In the sixties and early seventies rock ‘n’ roll had plenty of “girl groups” – The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, Martha and the Vandellas, and The Supremes, just to name a few. What rock ‘n’ roll did not have was all-female bands. With a few exceptions, female musicians (and in particular, female guitarists) were not taken seriously in the rock world. For example, of the studio musicians who made up the famed "Wrecking Crew" only one, bassist Carol Kaye, was a woman.
This began to change in 1975 with the formation of the all-female band The Runaways. Not only were the members of the band all females, they also were all teenagers. The Runaways consisted of lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), guitarists Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton), drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve), and bassist Jackie Fox (Fox declined to allow her name to be used in the film, so the bassist is a fictional character named Robin Robbins, played by Alia Shawkat). The band was managed and promoted by the Svengali-like Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) and had a brief but eventful run before breaking up after a few years.
At its core, The Runaways is an unflinching but fairly conventional rock ‘n’ roll biopic. An unlikely group of teenage girls, who mostly come from dysfunctional families, get together, overcome obstacles to attain a degree of respect and recognition, and then begin to fray at the seams due to jealousy, conflicting ambitions, and drug and alcohol abuse. What sets The Runaways apart from the pack is the superb execution of the film, and in particular the brilliant performances by Stewart, Fanning and
The band begins to take shape when Jett, the serious, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roller who is all about the music, meets drummer West. Fowley is intrigued by the idea of an all-girl band, and his approach is to emphasize the sexual angle. In that regard he recruits the beautiful blonde, Currie, to be the band’s lead singer. In Fowley’s mind, Currie is “jail bait” personified, and he pushes that image by having her dress and pose suggestively while she sings. Given the constraints of a 106-minute film, the other members of the band are understandably less well-defined. After a grueling period of rehearsing, followed by touring in a station wagon and sleeping in cheap motels, the band gains a measure of notoriety and Fowley succeeds in landing a recording contract with a major label. After achieving some commercial success in the
The Runaways is based upon Cherie Currie’s book, “Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story,” and was filmed with the cooperation and assistance of both Currie and Joan Jett. It is a gritty look at the music business and the struggles which performers must confront in order to succeed. The film also is effective in portraying the harsh consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. In real life The Runaways achieved only modest success while they were together. Critics largely dismissed the band as a novelty act and there were no hit singles or albums. However, the passage of years has resulted in greater respect for what they accomplished. Joan Jett, of course, is a bona fide star in her own right, and who now can disagree that women can rock as hard and as well as any man? Anyone who still has any doubts about that will think differently after watching The Runaways.
The Runaways is not a pretty film, but it has been nicely produced for Blu-ray by Sony. Much of the movie is dark and grungy, with the band rehearsing in a trailer park and playing in dark venues. Black levels are solid and shadow detail is very good, even in the dimmest scenes. Colors are solid and accurate, although the color palette deliberately becomes less vivid as the story moves along. The images are consistently sharp, except for some scenes which are deliberately hazy in order to convey the effects of drugs and alcohol. As usual, Sony has avoided applying excessive DNR and has retained an appropriate level of film grain. The result is an immersive film-like experience which appears to replicate the way that The Runaways appeared in theaters.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is superb and provides the energetic musical soundtrack with an expansive and involving soundstage. The surround channels are used extensively to provide a sense of what it is like to be immersed in a crowded and noisy club while a hard rocking band is playing. The dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel and is presented in a clear and understandable manner. Viewers should be warned that the script is replete with expletives.
There are just a few extras on this Blu-ray disc, the most significant of which is a commentary track with Joan Jett, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. Their comments are a bit awkward and rambling (and include more than a few expletives), and the commentary would have benefited from the participation of someone who is more experienced in doing them. Nevertheless, there are some interesting insights to be had, particularly when Jett points out the differences between the film’s script and the real-life events. Toward the end Jett bemoans the fact that the film failed to include a tribute to Sandy West, the drummer who died of lung cancer at the age of 47.
“Plugged In: Making the Film” is a 15-minute featurette which includes comments by Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, producers John Linson and Bill Pohlad, director Floria Sigismondi, music supervisor George Drakoulias, and Cherie Currie. Currie, incidentally, is now 50 years old and she looks terrific.
A two-minute promo for the film is the only other supplement. Sony also has included trailers for Chloe, The Square, The Bounty Hunter, Harry Brown, Get Low, Youth in Revolt, and the upcoming Starz mini-series The Pillars of Earth.
As usual, BD-Live features will be enabled on the release date.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
Cinematically The Runaways does not break any new ground. Nevertheless, it is a welcome addition to the catalog of rock ‘n’ roll biopics. It boasts some first-rate acting and impressively energetic and realistic musical performances. It also is a fitting tribute to the real Runaways, whose legacy is far more impressive than anyone could have imagined it would be thirty-five years ago.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable