Kanye West, in anticipation of his new album, released a 30-minute art film-cum-music video magnum opus simply titled Runaway. The short features nine songs from West’s upcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. What story there is in the Hype Williams written/Kanye West directed project focuses on West’s discovery and attempted domestication of a phoenix (played by the fetching model Selita Ebanks). In his attempts to tame the creature, West takes the phoenix to a Michael Jackson marching band, to a high society dinner; lets her play with his dog, with his musical instruments, in his garden, etc… Meanwhile, all the Phoenix wants is, of course, to run away (or in the context of the film “to burn”). To check out Runaway and for my thoughts on the music video in question, hit the jump.
Please watch the 30-some-odd-minute video below. It is well worth your time. My analysis follows.
Runaway opens with the controversial artist quite literally running away/towards the camera. And it was right then that I was ready to dismiss the video for its simple-minded obviousness. Ready to dismiss the video as another vanity piece from a man who once proclaimed himself “The voice of this generation” But such dismissals aren’t quite fair to the piece. This is not to say Runaway isn’t self-indulgent and obvious — because it is. But the piece succeeds almost despite, nay, because of these inherit flaws.
If not obvious already, I have never been the greatest of Kanye West admirers. While respectful, I’ve always remained ultimately indifferent to the man’s talents. However within the context of Runaway, West’s songs become eerily captivating and rather moving. Listening to West rap about his indiscretions and his potentially lackluster character (from the eponymous song Runaway) within the context of him watching a group of scantily clad ballerinas as they stretch their nubile legs, contorting their figures into various suggestive positions*, while seemingly self evident in regards to its meaning also displays a deeper and dare-I-say tragic sense of aloneness. For West is very much an outsider, a loner within Runaway. West (the character within the film) lives all alone inside a lofty mansion — no family or loved ones to speak of. He also displays a great sense of distrust towards the outside world, lecturing the phoenix that the “first rule in this world, baby: Don’t pay attention to anything you see in the news.” The discovery of the Phoenix seems to be the first human (well, inhuman) contact West has had for awhile and his refusal to let her/it go seems less motivated by his presumed love for the creature than a need for some form of companionship.
When the phoenix does finally fly away and releases itself from the earth, it’s hard to say whether or not the film is meant to be read as a tragic story of unrequited love — although of course, West does get it on with the creature before her exodus — or an uplifting tale of one fleeing from the burdens and hardships of an oppressive omnipresent society. As the phoenix enlightens West of the true origin of statues (they are phoenixes whose wings have been cut off), she utters what may-or-may-not be the message of the picture: “Do you know what I hate most about your world? Anything that is different you try to change. You try to tear it down.” It’s hard to hear these words and not think that they apply directly to the oft criticized artist. Perhaps it is West himself who is the phoenix — attempting to rise up above the petty feuds with other celebs, up above the hanger-ons who tell him how great he is, the critics who call him self indulgent and obvious, high above any and all, free of the corporeal anchors that hold him back… Or maybe he just wants someone to hold him.
*It is also important to note that all the ballerinas are white. In fact all roles of a potentially subservient nature (i.e. a waitress, a news reporter on television, a marching band) are played by white actors. The obvious racial undertones of said decision could be a separate piece in its own right.