Let me preface my remarks with a couple of confessions to better frame where my review is coming from:
First off I am no art expert in any sense of the word. I’ve been to the Louvre and gazed upon some of history’s most celebrated pieces, I’ve seen the Sistine Chapel and other famous religious pieces in person and I’ve read as a person of natural curiosity about different periods of art and been to a couple of museums. And I have a stronger than what I would assume is average knowledge of Greek, Roman and some Egyptian mythology. Those are my only credentials as any form of art critic and I won’t pretend to be anymore or less informed than that.
Secondly, I have always admired the work of Kanye West simply because I felt he was different and more concerned with creativity than most rappers are. I’d say he’s probably my favorite post 90s rapper if I have one though I have not been fond of most of his output beginning with 808s and Heartbreaks.
Thirdly, I’m just one person and this is my personal opinion and interpretation of the film. I welcome all opinions to it and reactions to my own so long as you care to frame them in a thoughtful manner.
Beginning my review:
What did I think of Runaway overall? I didn’t think much. It’s not bad and it’s not great. It’s ambitiously mediocre.
People will certainly talk about it because it is Kanye West and he has the talk about factor attached to him and has for quite some time as he has descended further and further into egomania these past couple of years. This video seems to be the culmination of his egomania manifested in a misunderstanding of why the world perceives him as it does in my interpretation of it.
His employ of the phoenix, a mythological musical bird that constantly ressurects itself by burning to death and then being reborn I can only assume is an allusion to himself and I wondered if some of his intentions in having a car accident coincide with the discovery of the bird weren’t directly related to the car accident that preceded the beginning of his mainstream career? Perhaps I am reading too much into that. I will give him props for using Mozart’s unfinished Requiem in the beginning of the film but deduct the same amount for using the narration of one Nicki Minaj which added nothing to the film and seemed to be done purely for the purpose of using her. Plus she couldn’t help but use that idioctic cadence she uses in her music which takes you out of the film rather than complements it.
Beyond that I found the film to meander into an area of surprising pretentiousness. To quote one of my co workers, Mr. Jacob Olbrot “I kept waiting for it to be awesome, and then it was over.”
The strongest scene is the ballet scene attached after the last supper. All the things that precede it are bizarre and non linear as though it is the project of a first year art student who had a lot of money but was low on ideas so they just strung a bunch of seemingly symbolic scenes together and hoped no one noticed that the final product is uneven even if the individual shots and moments were great to look at.
And Runaway does look good. There are a few pacing issues with it as some shots linger unnecessarily like on deer eating grass and on Kanye watching the Phoenix in the yard but when it gets it right it is surprisingly effective (the ballet scene again which is probably the best shot and best realized moment of the entire film). It’s appealing to the eye in almost every way. And there is quite a bit going on visually that’ interesting. I especially upon repeat viewing found it striking how during the scene I interpreted to be reminiscent of artistic depictions of the Last Supper Kanye had a completely black dinner guest list with white people acting as servants and performers (all the people at the table were white, and all the ballerinas were white as well). It made an interesting visual contrast to what we probably see more regularly in our every day lives.
More puzzling are the images of Michael Jackson in a almost chaste Dia De Los Muertos celebration. Does West liken himself to Jackson? I’m not sure and I personally don’t think as a fan the comparison is apt nor did I find any bit of joy seeing his image in the video. It almost felt a bit exploitive. Kanye explained to MTV that he was trying to symbolize how the pop world is a cult and that Michael Jackson is “arguably bigger than Jesus”. I’m still somewhat confused about what he was going for even with the explanation.
I could have done without most of the explosions as explosions are pretty cliche. And the one that was the most reeking of cliche is his silhouette walking away from the explosion holding the phoenix in his arm. He’d have greatly impressed me as being an artist if he’d have found another way to convey that image instead of going to that worn out staple. Also explosions to indicate sexual gratification is overdone as well and I thought the sex scene more resembled a possession scene than actual copulation as the Phoenix seemed to be doing all of the movement while Kanye laid their prostrate almost as if he were dead in a good portion of the scene.
The acting is also pretty terrible. To be fair the actors are swimsuit model and Kanye West and he wisely kept the dialogue to a minimum but it stands out quite a bit when either one of them talks that they have no idea what tone they should be taking on. In my opinion, this dictates that Kanye didn’t fully understand the tone of his own project or that he was unable as a director to get the correct tone out of his actors including himself.
All in all the real question is what was Kanye trying to say with the project? I won’t fake as if I know exactly because the video is so abstract it doesn’t seem to have a straight forward message at least not to me.
The best I could gather was that Kanye seems to have martyred himself in the situations that have caused his life to spiral in the past couple of years beginning with the death of his mother on down to the Taylor Swift incident. While I somewhat can understand where Kanye is trying to come from I can’t 100 percent get behind the message if that is what it is because Kanye in my opinion has not been reborn, he is very much still burning if he does consider himself to be the Phoenix in the video.
In fairness to him he has had a rough year but a majority of it he has brought upon himself and I can’t bother to heap a lot of sympathy on him for it.
That’s the double edged sword of proudly being an asshole: when times get hard for you you can’t exactly expect everyone you alienated to come to your side and sympathize with you when the entire basis of your behavior in the best of times was your celebrated lack of sympathy for others.
Kanye’s ego is bloated and out of control but it isn’t quite the size of his talent anymore, it has eclipsed it in my opinion. Runaway is a beautiful, puzzingly uneven piece of work that has genius buried somewhere in it but it is not fully realized. Of course many will praise it because it is different and new in a world of music videos vastly devoid of creativity or daring and therefore a breath of fresh air but it still boasts many of the problems that have brought Kanye here to this point of his career anyway.
He wants to bask in his own bravado and be viewed as a sympathetic and troubled genius is the ultimate message I got from Runaway and it isn’t an idea I found all together appealing. But I’m not sure. I don’t think Runaway was effective at communicating much of anything. But he did make a better case for himself than most ever could which is definitely to his credit.