Def Jam locked down all of Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City’s Lower East Side last night for a screening of Kanye West’s “Runaway” short film.
The 35 minute film, written by Hype Williams and directed by Kanye, showcases nine songs from Kanye’s upcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s short on dialogue and tells a very basic story. Boy meets bird. Boy falls in love with bird. Boy’s friends hate bird. Boy loses bird. Boy runs.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
The film opens with Kanye speeding down a road in the middle of a forest in Prague under an orange sky interspersed with shots of a ball of fire falling from the sky. The ball of fire is revealed to be a phoenix, played by Selita Ebanks. The two nearly collide in the middle of the road. Kanye exits his European sportscar and picks the phoenix up off of the ground and carries to his house. She wakes up on his couch to the sound of a news reporter on the television. Kanye shuts off the television and quickly displays his lack of acting ability, informing the phoenix “Rule number one: Don’t believe anything you hear on television.”
He then takes her to what appears to be a parade where they are the only attendees. The song “All Of The Lights” plays as shots of fireworks in the sky, a huge Michael Jackson float, and a marching band flash across the screen. The courtship continues back at Kanye’s house as the winged phoenix dances as Kanye improvises on his MPC 2000 drum machine using samples from “Power.”
The “climax” of the film happens in a large open warehouse where a large feast is to take place. It didn’t go unnoticed that all of the guests at the feast are dark skinned and the servants are white. As Kanye and the (light-skinned) phoenix, who has only been wearing strategically placed feathers for the duration of the film, enter the warehouse and take their seats at the long table, the other guests are whispering to each other and obviously showing disapproval at Yeezy bringing her. Kanye attempts to lighten the mood by walking over to a piano and summoning a troupe of ballerinas by playing the opening notes to “Runaway.” Kanye climbs atop the piano and sings the song as everyone watches the ballerinas dance.
As the song ends, the food is brought out to the table. As each dish is brought out, it’s obvious that plates full of various poultry dishes aren’t exactly going to go over well with a woman who is essentially poultry herself. She freaks out and starts screaming.
Kanye attempts to comfort her but she informs him that in order for her to go back to her world, she has to be burnt alive. Kanye tries to talk her out of it. The audience is led to believe through the next series of shots that the two then have sex. Kanye wakes up the next morning to find that the phoenix has left him. She is then shown surrounded by fire, ascending into the sky.
“Lost In The World” begins to play, which starts out as little more than a tribute to Imogen Heap’s “Hide & Seek” but with thrice as much autotune. As the song plays, Kanye runs through the forest and down a deserted road.
Fade to black. Roll credits.
Kanye has been saying that the phoenix concept parallels his career as of late, and it’s an obvious reference to his return to the spotlight after Swiftgate. But that’s as deep as “Runaway” gets. Despite it’s beautiful location shots and excellent production values, the self-indulgent film fails to really engage the viewer. Selita Ebanks is the best thing about the film, as she looks beautiful in every single shot she appears in. The songs showcased in the film give us a little bit more hope for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but show that there is very little hope for Kanye’s career as an art-house filmmaker and even less for his career as an actor.
Kanye cited such classic music movies like Prince’s Purple Rain as inspiration for “Runaway.” However, in our eyes, Prince’s 1990 nearly unwatchable Graffiti Bridge seems to be more of an accurate reference point.
“Runaway,” despite it’s severely flawed nature, is a must-see. If you can tune out the film’s simplistic story, which at times feels like a re-write of the 1984 Tom Hanks/Daryl Hannah film Splash, you’ll be exposed to some pretty moving pictures and a handful of nice songs, but that’s about all that “Runaway” has to offer.
“Runaway” premieres on BET, MTV, VH1, BET.com, MTV.com, and Vevo.com on Saturday October 23rd at 8pm EST.