Director: Kanye West

Staring: Selita Ebanks & Kanye West

(out of five)

Part of Kanye West’s original appeal was not only his beats and his openness, but also a great potential, a promise that he may actually be the new direction for hip-hop, if not pop music. I don’t know if Runaway fulfills that promise, but it certainly is one more brick in that wall.
West has been in a league of his own for the last several years, nearing pop figure-heads like Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna in cross-over appeal/potential. Yeezy’s aped the alien hip-hop persona of Andre 3000  while living high and kingly like his “big brother,” Jay-Z, creating this hybrid of European flash, and mogul rapper, almost Euro-trap. Even his languid auto-tunned Dear John of an album, 808’s and Heartbreak occupied it’s own corner of a newly crowded R(ap)&B field, if by no other metric than a single-minded, well-constructed theme (heartbreak). But his serial mixtape, which I’ve been covering fanatically, and this new promotional film put him in a whole other category, approaching the stratospheric heights of pop-as-art like The Beatles.
Kanye’s on some serious European New-Wave shit right now. It’s bloated and convoluted, but more importantly, in the most stylish and distracting way possible, very personal. Runaway feels like the last 10 minutes of Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 were taken out of Guido Anselmi’s well-coiffed skull, run through Kanye’s Gucci-addled brain, and written by one of the premier music video auteurs (Hype Williams).

(spoiler?:)

Runaway focuses on a fruitful, personal but universal struggle: artist vs. muse/ego. West has always been a conflicted personality, just a little shy of Nas in forthrightness, always willing to lay his contradictions and faults bare, but quick to recoil when critiqued or questioned. He seems to treat his inspiration the same way. As long as she’s around, as long as she enjoys his output, her flaws and eccentricities are acceptable, if not charming, but when she diverts from him or pulls away, it’s a personal attack. This love/hate relationship, in the guise of an angelic affair, is what West’s epic music video is concerned with.
When Yeezy’s baller car is crushed by what appears to be a comet while on a drive through an impossibly bucolic country side, West finds a feathered woman–The Phoenix–in the wreckage. What ensues is a cross between My Fair Lady and The 5th Element as the two develop a bond and he has to instruct her in the ways and mores of this bizarre hyper-artistic, Euro-trashed world of Kanye West’s imagination.
Runaway is almost constantly at top speed, cramming as many beautiful images into the frame and into a sequence as possible, except for the film’s thematic and literal center with the ballerinas. After a quick run through of the couples courtship, they must appear socially. The setting is a beautifully draped table in an abandoned warehouse. Conveniently, there is a chipped and beaten upright piano in a corner of this warehouse which allows West to hammer out the spare and chilling opening notes of his latest single, “Runaway.” As happened when he performed the sequence at the MTV Video Music Awards, a gaggle of ballerinas perform during the song.
The scene is key for numerous reasons, chief of which may be that it features the film’s titular song. More significantly, the whole sequence is directed by West’s character for his muse, this Phoenix who’s fallen to Earth for him. He’s seeking approval from his inspiration and she is the only attentive member of the audience (the rest of the guests for the dinner raise their glasses on cue and are as choreographed as the dancers). It’s also the fulcrum of the film, before the ballerina sequence, there’s the honeymoon, everything is roses, immediately following the dance things sour and an unhappy ending is all but inevitable.
The only extended sequence of dialog is a conversation about the nature of art, that statues (maybe all art), are just Phoenixes turned to stone, which is followed by West dry-humping The Phoenix. West’s relationship with this woman/his ego/inspiration/his artistic identity is a little confused and makes Runaway‘s concept a bid muddled. But dealing with issues like that in such a compact space (under 35 minutes) is difficult. Plus, they are often intertwined. Placing them in the same body is an understandable short hand, as singular incidents  or people can inspire changes in all the aforementioned areas.
Despite the scattered and difficult relationship West has with this winged woman, Runaway stands as his most successful conceptual statement. His educational trilogy (College DropoutLate Registration, Graduation) only partially dealt with how education and schooling worked in his music or his personality, 808’s and Heartbreak is his strongest conceptual offering but the execution is flat and, at times, unlistenable, and some of the tracks we’ve heard which will appear on his upcoming album (the horrendously titled) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [sic] are god awful, Runaway seems to have little competition on that front.

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