Kanye West | Runaway Film Debut
Originally published on the Time Out Chicago blog
As the media frenzy surrounding Kanye West’s new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy continues, West came home to Chicago and made a stop off at the ShowPlace ICON Theater last night for an advance screening of his new 35-minute, epic music video “Runaway.” I was lucky enough to nab an invitation. Before the comparisons to Michael Jackson and “Thriller” could begin, West joined the intimate crowd of friends, family and press to shed light on his directorial debut and how, in some ways, it wouldn’t be possible without Jackson. He even channeled Jacko in his look, stepping out in sunglasses, a slim-fitting black suit with gold embellishment on the sleeves and numerous gold chains hanging from his neck. Speaking briefly, he praised Jackson’s legacy and how honored he felt to have the opportunity to debut his video on MTV and BET (Saturday 23 at 7pm) the way “Thriller” did back in its day.
Then he shed a little light on his motivation. With a reference to bloggers—”People who could never be you telling you how to be you”—he talked about getting past all the criticism, growing as an artist and how he finds parallels to his struggle in the story of the Phoenix, which is the basis of the plot for “Runaway.” Saying that his vision is fueled by dreams and a child’s perspective, West concluded he has to embrace his creative side regardless of the feedback. “You just gotta do you,” he said, and let the tape roll.
With that, the screen lit up into an action shot of Kanye running, as if for his life, down a road through the woods with flames erupting behind him. As the plot evolves, his Phoenix, model-actress Selita Ebanks—whose slightly brick-colored hue, gold claws and feather embellishments are a genuine stylistic win—falls to Earth in a blazing fireball. Kanye discovers her, shows her around our world, which she becomes sickened by, and then she burns up in a visual-effects-laden final scene, returning to her homeland. Each scene serves as a big-budget teaser for songs on the upcoming LP. Over the course of the film, we see Ebanks arrive in the woods in a wash of greens, reds and oranges. Deer watch from a distance. Once settled into West’s palatial and modern abode, the two engage in a beautifully shot tribal dance sequence set to “Power,” with Kanye pounding out the song’s drums from an MPC atop a podium. Later, during a dinner sequence—which was clearly Kanye’s commentary on false friendship and the trials and tribulations he’s been through—15 to 20 ballerinas flood the scene, and West turns his back to his guests to perform the video’s title track, his ode to the douche bags, assholes, scumbags and jerkoffs. The most visually captivating scene, it’s also the pivotal scene that signals his Phoenix’s disgust and impending departure, which is set to “Lost in the World,” one of the best things I’ve heard Kanye do in some time.
While I don’t see it becoming the cultural milestone that “Thriller” is, West’s “Runaway” is an ambitious undertaking, and generally a success. Though West can’t seem to muster any emotion as he delivers his few lines, the story is well communicated and the visuals are mostly breathtaking. He can probably thank veteran hip-hop music-video director Hype Williams for helping with that. But the music? It steals the show. Having now heard samples of more than half of West’s upcoming album, I’m jonesing for more. Back are the banging drums and brilliant soul samples, and each seems as if it could be a party starter or a cultural statement. Kanye’s intention was clearly to succeed on both of those fronts.
After the film he spoke to the audience at length. He referenced his former glory, a “position savagely taken away from me,” he said. Clearly, the negative media attention he’s received has affected him, and his goal at this stage in his career is to class it up. He told us stories of his internships at Fendi in Italy and his time recording the LP in Hawaii. The new Kanye is “striving as an artist to further his culture,” and pushing past lyrical metaphors to make concrete statements. His ego, not entirely humbled, has him wondering how he’ll be remembered. Will the ballerina scene inspire future generations of dancers? Will Kanye 2.0 (3.0?) push music and fashion to greater respectability in the eyes of his fans? Nurturing his ego and doing exactly what he probably hopes journalists like me will do, I’m going to play right into his trap and say that, based on what I saw last night, it will.
—Joshua P. Ferguson