The latest high profile short film to descend from the Mt. Olympus of the established artistic class hit the internet in the last couple of days. Kanye West, the literate, cultured prince of Hip Hop has made his directing debut with ‘Runaway’ a 34 minute, long-form narrative music video, that has racked up over 3 million views aggregate in 48 hours.
Last year Kanye collaborated with Spike Jonze on the wonderful, We Were Once a Fairytale, and must have (bad pun alert) got jones-ing to create his own short film. The result is ambitious and absurd—weaving together artistic and cultural mismatches like action movie explosions and impeccably styled menageries, with marching bands and ballet dancers, all backed to a collection of Kanye songs new and old. The story, by Kanye West and written by music video legend Hype Williams, is about a love affair between the musician and an otherworldly phoenix, who meet when her flaming comet crashes into Kanye’s sports car. The result is a mashup between Stardust and the 5th Element, as the beautiful foreign creature learns the nature of our world.
Kanye is a man of taste, as his supremely popular blog indicates. He tends to be on top of the latest happenings in the worlds of fashion, art, music and film. Yet this taste is often in his own work sacrificed at the altar of his tremendous ego. Runaway is guilty of this in the extreme. Several of his infatuations are on display here: impeccable clothing by Philip Lim, truly gorgeous art-direction, and wonderful cinematography. And yet the bizarre and the beautiful moments—scenes and images worthy of museum pieces and fashion films, are undermined by a lack of grounding in subtle messaging. His statements are weird for the sake of being weird, or grandiose and obvious; in a film with very little dialogue, the first words spoken by Kanye to the phoenix have all the nuance of a sledgehammer, “First rule of this world baby, don’t believe anything you see in the news”.
Still this cannot be a proper review, for who am I to review Kanye? In a way no one can judge this man because no one has yet dared to create the work that he is creating. Each new Kanye event is an experience into something that no one else has had the ability or the gumption to create. Long-form music videos are in vogue now that the internet has replaced MTV as the primary channel of consumption, but Runaway is probably unprecedented since Michael Jackson (who makes a very bizarre cameo in this film). The short film has some definite soft spots, and in so many ways demonstrates the hallmarks of unrestrained vanity, and yet is unrepentant in an effort to synthesize a new kind of viewing experience, somewhere between the music video and short film. This film will not be remembered by history as a classic, but it is mesmerizing to watch, both as triumph and trainwreck. If it inspires copycats, I’m on board with seeing what other artists will do with the Kanye precedent.