Monday, December 28, 2009

Punk Girls on Film.

When a movie about The Runaways was announced early this year, I have to admit that I was among the skeptics. Kristen Stewart, fresh off her Twilight superstardom, was involved, and Dakota Fanning's signing on to the project worried me even more. Something about it just felt gimmick-y and calculated to me.

But as more information became available I found myself getting more invested. Joan Jett as producer and a script based on Cherie Currie's memoir seemed like good signs, and bringing in Alia Shawkat seemed like another one. Photos from the summertime-shoot showed Stewart, Fanning, Shawkat, and the entire band looking amazingly like the real Runaways. Seeing Stewart in Adventureland, and falling in love with her portrayal of an honest-to-goodness Lou Reed-loving, band t-shirt wearing, musician-dating music geek in September sealed it for me.

But I didn't realize quite how excited I was until the first trailer was released just before Christmas. I definitely screamed a little when I watched it:

Visually, the trailer looks kind of awesome. There are scenes from concerts, scenes in recording studios, and Kristen Stewart smashing a chair, all in one minute --but what's really exciting to me is the voiceover. It starts the trailer, and it tells us: "In 1975, rock was a man's world." This initial, straightforward acknowledgment of gender as an issue is what made me realize that this movie is a big deal.

The trailer focuses on scenes in which the band is told that it won't be successful because all of its members are female. This suggests that this is the central conflict of the film: an all-girl band struggles for resources, support, and success against sexist ideas in a masculinist industry.

How many times have the real-life, day-to-day issues of female musicians, in any genre, been show on film? Sure, it's sort of been done. But to quote Jenny Schecter on lesbians in film, "Well, I don't think it's been done a million times." Consider that Dreamgirls, whose plot pretty much rests on issues of power and gender, never really deals with the exploitation and abuse it depicts. (Yeah, I know, it's a musical, but STILL.) Coal Miner's Daughter and What's Love Got to Do With It are much more satisfying, not to mention more responsible -- but those films are about extremely well-known and successful country and pop artists, respectively.

The Runaways movie is a big deal because it has the potential to give women and gender in rock some much needed visibility. Also, because it's the story of a band that eventually imploded, partly because of sexist exploitation, the real-life consequences of misogyny have a chance at some screen time as well.

And all of this is very important, especially to me, and especially to my friends who are starting bands and writing music right now. But if this movie is really done right, it will have the potential to about more than women in music. The story of the Runaways is, at its center, about young women working to make their voices heard, and to do fulfilling, fun, rewarding work in a world that still isn't entirely open to the idea of women in the public sphere, making money, and making a real contribution to society. Let's hope that the Runaways movie is both good enough and accessible enough to find an audience beyond young women musicians, aging riot grrrls, and punk enthusiasts.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

I'm very excited to see this movie, especially because of JJ's heavy involvement. I know they'll do it right.