Kanye West's 'Confessional' Film Premiere
With the first West Coast showing of "Runaway," the rap superstar offers a revealing look at life beyond the headlines.
Considering his reputation for being the ultimate showman, Kanye West’s west coast premiere of “Runaway,” a short film he conceived, wrote and directed, was a surprisingly low-key L.A. affair, even for a Monday night. Held at the Harmony Gold Theater, the event, intended as a visual accompaniment to his forthcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (due November 22), boasted little more than a stark black bar and a grey carpet long enough to hold only a handful of photographers. Inside the theater, all manner of electronic devices were forbidden as Kanye wanted his guests focused on the screen with ears tuned into the crystal clear sound surrounding them.
The man himself made an appearance both to introduce the film and conduct what turned out to be a revealing one-way Q&A afterwards. But without a spotlight to his face and seemingly humbled by the number of creative types in the room, Kanye, for the first time in a long time, blended in rather than stood out—not unlike the premiere for his last album, 808s and Heartbreak, which featured a bevy of nude women in silhouette but commanded attention be paid to the music being played at deafening volume. That listening party, along with “Runaway,” featured the vision of Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft. Kanye also enlisted the eye of director Hype Williams for the 35-minute film.
To say the media contingent was skeptical would be an understatement of downright Westian proportions. It is Hollywood, after all, and as one local commented at the bar, which featured a scrumptious basil lemon drop cocktail, “Do you think this will get us drunk enough to like the movie?” Even Kanye had to acknowledge his place as a newcomer in the film world by crediting those in the room who inspired him. “I haven’t seen a lot of you guys in this long, hard year,” he said from the stage (among the famous faces in the crowd: Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson). “It means so much to me to have you here.”
Where was he all that time? Mostly in Rome, Kanye revealed, taking in the fashion industry and drawing parallels to his own creative world. “It was the first time I got to step away,” he explained of his six-month break from music, during which he claims to have interned at Fendi (we assume he meant that metaphorically).
Of course, Kanye had plenty going on in his personal life—the unexpected death of his mother and a public shunning thanks to one too many awards show antics, the most recent at the expense of Taylor Swift. “My whole world crashed out of a moment of sincerity,” said Kanye. “I know it’s a fight I can’t win.” The incident set him on a dark path, during which he’d contemplated suicide, he confessed. “They make us so scared we’ll lose our fuckin’ Maybachs,” said Kanye. “I’m so not fuckin’ scared. I so don’t care… These moments are why I will not give up on life. So many people won’t get the chance.”
But while the psychology of his year off is complex, the impetus for the movie, he explained, was simple: “It hurts to not see certain things come to life.” Indeed, not every song produces a music video and videos often don’t tell the whole story. Given the resources, why not present your music in feature film form? Name-dropping Jim Henson, Walt Disney and George Lucas, Kanye said he aimed to find a “creative sweet spot” and “think like a five year-old—what would I like before I knew what I liked?”
The result: a stunning display of color and rhythm at the intersection of art, fashion, music and dance. The loose story, of the familiar phoenix rising variety (his love interest is played by Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks), is really secondary to the emotional resonance and not-so-subtle symbolism Kanye forces the viewer to confront. So for his now infamous toast to the “douchebags, assholes and scumbags” (and the movie’s namesake), the setting is a virginal white last supper during which a herd of ballerinas accent the song’s many twists and turns, while in an earlier sequence, men wearing red Ku Klux Klan-like hoods march through a field, destination: unknown.
It’s all meant to stimulate you visually, while sonically, Kanye has enlisted a creative coalition the likes of which is rarely seen outside of major philanthropic events. Take the album’s next single, “All of the Lights,” and its nearly dozen contributors, which Kanye listed proudly: John Legend, The Dream, Alicia Keys, Fergie, La Roux’s Elly Jackson, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, Ryan Leslie, Charlie Wilson and Elton John. “All in the same song!,” Ye yelped following the screening. “It sounds completely seamless and ghetto at the same time.”