Halfway the 1980’ies Joan Larkin found herself attracted to rock and punk music as a girl, while this was a male-dominated musical genre. She took up the idea to form an all-girl rockband and proposed this to producer Kim Fowley who thought that was a good idea. Fowley introduced Larkin to a drummer and the rest of the band was apparently selected on looks rather than on musical skills. In a trailer the band practiced and Fowley came up with the songs. After a rough training, Fowley managed to get the girls on stage and indeed the forced hype worked out well. Treating the girls like his employees, Fowley pushed the band to new heights with an American and later a Japanese tour and eventually an album. With all “Beatlemania” and especially when it became clear that all the attention focussed on the lead singer Cherrie Currie, tensions arose in the band and eventually Currie (who was not a rock’n’roll-girl in her heart anyway) decided to leave the band. The Runaways ceased to exist, Larkin, who named herself Joan Jett from the beginning, understood that when she wanted the attention for herself she had to be the middle of the band, formed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and continued her success.
“The Runaways” gives an insight in the music business in which a band is created and hyped, rather than an existing band becoming famous. Girls want a piece of a men’s world, but it seemed that deep down, not all band members were really up for being a rockstar and the film mostly follows the young woman who was and who is best known: Joan Jett. As it always seems to go, fame rises to the girls heads and they start using drugs. Eventually they collapse under the fame. The music of The Runaways was nothing too special poprock or punkrock. Fowley tried to give the band a dirty image and perhaps it is just the time The Runaways made music in, but when the film is right, The Runaways did not sound anything louder than Jett’s famous song “I Love Rock’n’Roll”. Moreover, I did not recognise any of the songs, so the music surely did not stand the test of time.
Quite strange too is that when I read the Wikipedia article about The Runaways, the story differs significantly. Supposedly the band released their debut on Mercury records in 1976 and they toured the USA. The second album was released in 1977 and the band toured Japan. Of that tour a live album was released. In the film the band hears about the Mercury deal in Japan and the band splits during the recording of the debut album. Also there have been changes in the line-up before the band split and Currie’s sister actually performed on stage, while in the film she is the very normal home-stayer. The band supposedly became part of the punk movement while in the film they remain a popband. Strange. Is the film or Wikipedia incorrect and in the latter case, why make a documentary that is incorrect?
In any case, “The Runaways” is an alright film. The music is not too inspiring (only when Iggy Pop is used, the music goes well with the film) and for the larger part, the filming is nothing special either. There are a few more surrealistic scenes which are more interesting from that point of view. As a documentary the film is interesting, the first women-based band, the early punk/wave scene, etc., but with the strange contradictions between the story and the ‘factual history’ makes me doubt a bit about that. Conclusion, not a bad watch, but not a must-see either.