‘I would never want a book’s autograph’: a choice nugget of wisdom from Kanye West, whose new film Runaway is further evidence that the self-confessed bibliophilistine would do well to eschew all semantic content from his art. This along with the manner in which he often ruins his incredibly evocative music – which would otherwise mark him as Dilla’s natural successor – with naively ignorant lyricism which, in its – broadly speaking – content’s eschewing of braggadocio, comes off as introspection by someone who’s never really thought much.
The best way I can describe Runaway is as a hip-hopera made by Matthew Barney, only without all that artist’s tiresomely intricate and convoluted symbolism. The only ulterior meaning which has been ‘implanted’ within Runaway is an achingly trite message about how unpleasant it is to be ‘different’ in a world of crushing conformism (anachronistically delivered by a man perched on one of the highest rungs of market capitalism’s upper echelons, an irony surely lost on Kanye himself). However, similarly to the way in which the apparently politically conscious works by his alleged (by Wikipedia) influence Picasso are best appreciated on an aesthetic basis (an appreciation which, when one gets acquainted with the Frankfurt School, in fact proves far more subversive), it’s far more fulfilling to ignore what Runaway might possibly be supposed to mean and enjoy it for however it might affect.
Unlike other recent forays into filmmaking by hip-hop stars, for example R Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (enjoyable on strictly wink-wink-nudge-nudge grounds) or 50 Cent’s Before I Self Destruct (straight-up embarrassing), Runaway is a genuinely glorious piece of work. It features elegant sequence upon elegant sequence of breathtaking spectacle-for-spectacle equally symptomatic of the music industry’s commodity fetishism (and let’s not take tired recourse to the pretence that such an attitude is exclusively native to those music genres labelled – with a substantive dollop of underhand racism – ‘urban’) as Soulja Boy smothering his face in bills before digging into a bowl of diamonds for breakfast in the promo for Get My Swag On, yet unlike such moments of scarcely-aware self-parody, almost every frame of Runaway shimmers with an autotelic beauty.
The film sent me digging around for an undergrad essay I wrote on Godard, wherein I drew upon a quote from Vinzenz Hediger in comparing the 20th Century French master’s work to Hollywood trailers. Godard’s films, writes Hediger, ‘deconstruct mainstream cinema...by resembling mainstream trailers rather than by not resembling mainstream films,’ and similarly Runaway has little in common with the sprawling Oscar-baiting epics it intimates, but instead seems akin to their advertisements (here the oft-voiced complaint that ‘they put all the good bits in the trailer’ springs to mind). It is a continuation of mainstream cinema, to again quote Hediger on Godard, ‘by its own means’ and I do not think that it is too farfetched to say that it precursors the natural conclusion of the monolithic industry’s aesthetic. On reflection, perhaps the title of 50 Cent’s film would have been more suitable.
By Daniel Neofetou
(AN APPROPRIATE TITLE, DEAR READER. I FEEL MY DAYS ARE NUMBERED. FINKPOINTLESS.)
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