I was a pretty big Lita Ford fan back in the day (I still have a couple of her albums on vinyl, and I listen to the digital versions regularly, because they rock!), but I’ve never been the sort of “fan” who cares too much about what my fave musicians are like as people, or what they get up to outside of the studio. Nevertheless, I was quite curious to see The Runaways (2010), a biopic charting the formation and dissolution of the eponymous band, in which Ford played lead guitar as a teenager. What I didn’t realise when I bought the DVD was that the whole thing would be told from the perspective of lead singer Cherie Currie, whose memoir was adpated for the screenplay, and chief songwriter/rhythm guitarist Joan Jett, who served as an executive producer and consultant on the movie. Apparently Ford and Jackie Fox (the bassist who played on the band’s debut album) declined to grant the producers the rights to their life stories, so the former is reduced to little more than a bitchy, one-note cameo role for Scout Taylor-Compton, and the latter is replaced by a fictional character who remains resolutely mute throughout the film! This is particularly disappointing, since the bass-slinging shemp in question is played by the very talented and very funny Alia Shawkat… who, it must be said, looks particularly fetching in her retro rock chick get-up. What a waste!
Of course, Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart do some fine work as Curry and Jett, but once again the Curse of Compression prevented me from connecting with their characters in any meaningful way. It’s interesting to listen to the commentary track and hear how much “artistic licence” they took with their portrayal of ‘Joan Jett’ on-screen, despite the fact that the genuine article was hanging around the set for most of the shoot. Still, at least with this biopic you get to listen to a lot of kick-ass music while the clipped, disjointed scenes and tired clichés play out! That’s not intended as a slam on screenwriter/director Floria Sigismondi, who apparently learned her craft by creating promo videos for some of my favourite bands… I just have an allergy to this entire genre. Sorry. On the other hand, if this movie inspires a new generation of girls to pick up guitars/drumsticks/mics and declare themselves the 21st Century “Queens of Noise”, then it was worth every penny that went into its production!
Oh, the cast also included Stella Maeve as the band’s (sadly deceased) drummer Sandy West… and Elvis Presley’s actual granddaughter, Riley Keough, giving a flawless performance in her screen debut as Cherie’s sister, Marie Currie.
Meanwhile, there was a link at the bottom of this movie’s Wikipedia page to a documentary about The Runaways called Edgeplay (2005), directed by former bassist Victory Tischler-Blue. Apparently Jett refused to participate, but there should be more footage of Ford and the other sidelined band members in that, so I may have to track it down sometime. It’s a shame that every new band can’t be issued with their own personal Julien Temple to film them throughout their careers, the way he did with the Sex Pistols (as seen in his brilliant cut-up-umentary The Filth and the Fury). That’d be the only fair way to do it.