Kanye West debuted his long-form music film Runaway on Saturday night. It was a dreamy mini-movie with lovely, light imagery and a heavy message — roughly speaking, people aren’t open-minded; they don’t accept what they don’t immediately understand. Take it as a metaphor for how West feels about the acceptance of not necessarily his music, but his public behavior (epitomized by the West-Taylor Swift VMA moment), and you probably wouldn’t be wrong.
It told the story of a phoenix (played by model Selita Ebanks) who falls to Earth in front of West’s car. West, playing a version of himself, tried to introduce her to a world that mystified her, and was mystified by her.
(Warning: clip below contains a few possibly-objectionable words.)
The West-directed Runaway used a heavily-saturated color palette; bright oranges, fiery reds, and lush forest-greens dominated. He lingered over his imagery, frequently slowing down the motion for us to observe the phoenix’s most causal gestures. In one bravura sequence, he included a red-dressed marching band that pulled along a giant papier-mache bust of Michael Jackson in its wake.
West has said that Runaway contains nine songs from his forthcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and supplies “visuals for all these songs that deserve videos.”
Late in Runaway, the phoenix speaks: “You know what I hate about your world? Anything that is different you try to change, you try to tear it down.” West’s visual and musical sophistication was constantly contrasted with images of the phoenix’s playful innocence, until she finally burst into flames and ascended back “to my world,” as she put it, leaving West’s character desperate, running down the road after her, left alone.
Runaway aired simultaneously on MTV, MTV2, and BET; each channel inserted their commericals into Runaway in a cruelly abrupt manner that marred the flow of West’s film.
In an interview that aired immediately after Runaway, West referred to Fellini and Kubrick as influences, and the languidly assured tracking shots and framing in some scenes bore out those influences. He also said the phoenix’s crash paralleled the “crash of my career.” Sometimes it’s best for an artist to just let the work speak for itself.
Given how controversial West’s every artistic gesture seems to have become, I have a feeling we’ll be in for a round of dismissals of Runaway as a pretentious piece. Instead, it deserves to be seen as a carefully modulated art-film made by a man on a mission.
Did you watch Runaway? What did you think?