“You might think you’ve peeped the scene, you haven’t, the real ones far to mean, the watered down one, the one you know, was made up centuries ago, it made it sound all wack and corny, yes it’s awful blasted boring, twisted fiction sick addiction, but gather round children, zip-it listen.” rapper Nicki Minaj, narrator of Runaway
Last Sunday night rapper Kanye West, released Runaway, a short film based around his upcoming album, to the Internet. In the six short days since the release the 35 minute movie has reached nearly 3 million views on the video website vevo.com. Runaway has been the subject of hundreds of online movie and musical critics with comments ranging from regarding the film as “a musical masterpiece. (www.adannews.com)” to NPR Music essentially describing it as an egotistical over-priced vanity project. But no matter how you personally stand on the “1 being WTF? to 10 being Awesome” grading scale, there is no denying that Kanye West has made one of the most provocative and innovative undertaking in the realm of modern popular culture. Kanye West integrates elements from both “low-culture” and “high-culture” to create an imaginative artistic result that can be compared to the avant-garde movement in the early 20th century.
The basic plot of Runaway is a love story between Kanye West and a phoenix from space (portrayed by Victoria Secret angel, Ebanks). During her time on Earth, the phoenix criticizes and illuminates the horrors of daily human interaction. This basic story line is reminiscent of Daft Punk’s cult musical film Interstella 5555 from 2003. This is the first of the countless references to popular low-culture in Runaway. Other allusions to popular culture include a papier-mâché effigy of Michael Jackson in the parade scene, the repeated exhibition of explosives and running away that are redolent of the classic action movies (i.e. Armageddon, The Transporter), as well as the mannerisms of the phoenix that mirror those of the alien Leeloo in the science fiction film The 5th Element.
But the references that are even more blatant than those of low-culture in Runaway are the abundance of “high-culture” used. In the majority of hip hop and rap media, it is customary to skirt around high-culture. Instead, Kanye West confronts high-culture head-on, sampling Mozart in the introduction. He used classic artists like Picasso and Matisse as influences and inspirations to collaborate with modern fine artist Vanessa Beecroft. To push this further, Kanye West hired world-renown Czechoslovakian ballet choreographer and dance troupe to perform brilliant ballet sequences that recall the classic Russian ballet, Swan Lake. In my opinion, it is these high-culture allusions to history that make Runaway such a strong film in our modern cultural context.
Throughout the film, I was kept entranced with the same sublime experience and fascination as in the 19th century romanticism art movement. The romanticism movement was based largely around strong emotions such as horror, terror and awe in the supernatural. Kanye West perfected these romanticism ideals in a modern context in Runaway. Each time I watch this film, I become captivated all over again with the sublime mystical elegance.
With that said, I should mention that since its release on Sunday my roommate and I have watched Runaway on near constant repeat. The film is beautiful, the costumes exquisite, the actors (however not excellent at line delivery) are supremely attractive, and the music is by far the best Kanye West has yet created. I recommend that everybody spend 35 minutes and watch Runaway. If not for the popular culture references or the general awesomeness and spectacularity, it is an epic that will undoubtedly become a standard experience in modern music.