The Runaways, the film about the rise of teenaged femme rockers Joan Jett and Cherie (Bomb) Currie, is a political act. It is also rock history. And it is a rebellious, comi-tragic drama loaded with sexual energy and ass-kicking I Love Rock 'n' Roll music.
"This is not about women's lib," Runaways manager Kim Fowley growls as he goads the girls into being real rockers, "this is about women's libidos!"
The Italian-born, Canadian-raised director of The Runaways gets it. "Speaking with Joan about that stuff," says Floria Sigismondi, "she really wanted to own her sexuality. At the time (1975, when The Runaways were created in Los Angeles) girls didn't really do that. So, for her, it was very important to show what was going on in her life. She just wanted to shine a light on what her life was like and what other kids were doing. So that was really the politics behind that."
As a film, The Runaways made its debut this week on DVD and Blu-ray. Each is a single-disc edition with interesting, if limited extras. The main attraction is a commentary combining the still-rockin' Jett with actress Kristen Stewart, who plays her, and Dakota Fanning, who plays her then-lover and bandmate Currie. Sigismondi's feature film debut is based on Currie's biography, Neon Angel, which the director adapted.
Like many edgy movies, The Runaways now has to find a bigger audience in home entertainment than it did in theatres. "I'll be excited when I actually get a copy in my hands," Sigismondi says from Los Angeles, where she and rocker husband Lillian Berlin, of Living Things, maintain a home (they also have a residence back in Toronto, where Sigismondi studied and practiced fine art and photography after growing up in Hamilton). "I love owning films so, for me, it will be quite exciting to have that film as part of my collection."
I recommend the Blu-ray. While The Runaways works on DVD, Blu-ray adds a subtle lustre to her guerrilla-styling filmmaking. Sigismondi supervised the video master -- essential for enhancing a film for the home market -- and it shows best in high definition. "I am actually happy with the transfer and the colour," Sigismondi says, "because I had more time to play with that. I was able to really figure things out."
The Runaways does not appear to have the flash of Sigismondi's famous rock videos for Marilyn Manson, David Bowie and, of course, Living Things. While there are moments where stylistic flourishes enhance it, Sigismondi mostly plays it straight.
"Maybe because, you know, this film is rooted in reality. I wanted it to reflect that feeling, although it does go out a bit." She cites examples (see them for yourself). "But I still felt that they belonged in the real world, and for me it was really important just to tell the story and not flower it up with too much technique."
Instead, it is a character study of Jett and Currie. Fanning was cast because she is approximately the same age as Currie was in 1975. Stewart was cast -- before Twilight hit -- because Sigismondi loved her in Sean Penn's Into the Wild.
"By the time her contract was signed and finalized, it was the day Twilight came out," Sigismondi says. "I knew nothing about Twilight. I basically fell in love with her from Into the Wild, and from meeting her. It was interesting that it (the Twilight phenomenon) was happening at the same time as we were shooting because it was something new for her as well, and she is really down to earth."