“A five year old kid still sees truth before the world has taught them how to think,” said Kanye West at the premiere of his debut short film Runaway last night in Sydney. “You’re running in the beginning until people tell you, ‘You can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t,’ and by the end you slow down and have to fall in line… I just wanna be like a five year old kid.” With straight-up sincere quotes like those, he led an inspiring question and answer session straight after Runaway had finished screening. Say what you like about Kanye West, but I challenge anybody to sit in a room while he speaks about his life’s work and not get carried away by the man’s honesty and enthusiasm.
Kanye West believes in Kanye West, but the bravado, he says, is just a shield to beat off the “idiots who don’t want change”. His place in the world is bigger than ego – according to him, he’s leading a musical movement as important as those blazed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. In his opinion, it’s because of artists such as the aforementioned that change actually happens. Their unwillingness to listen to the prevailing winds of negativity is what drives artistic freedom and progression forward.
The central theme of the film is a phoenix falling to earth and trying to come to terms with life within a square peg/round hole framework. At one point the bird, played by Victoria’s Secret supermodel Selita Ebanks, delivers the following line: “What I hate most about your world is it tries to rip the wings off anything different and turn them to stone.” It’s a fine metaphor for tall poppy syndrome.
Is it a metaphor for Kanye West himself? Sure, but much of the criticism that’s been directed towards him over the past two years has been as a result of his own self-inflicted public blunders. It’s one thing to speak of freedom of expression, and another to act entirely inappropriately (or speak way out of turn).
But he’s coming to terms with that. “My greatest challenge is [behaving appropriately] in society but being as creative as I want to be,” he says. It’s a dichotomy between playing by the rules in public, but still managing to stay “nuclear creative” in the studio. Suffice to say there’ll be no more jumping on stage at awards shows.
Now, I could rattle off a whole bunch of quotes from the evening but they wouldn’t do him justice. To understand his message you have to hear him speak for yourself. Those words that sound so sincere and humble in person don’t translate well on paper. Yet in a failing on the part of his management – and presumably to keep an air of mystery around a short film that is still two-odd weeks away from public release – no cameras or recording devices were allowed in the room while he was speaking.
The film itself is captivating to watch – the songs are haunting, particularly Runaway and Lost in the World (featuring Bon Iver) – and it looks damn good. The ballet dancers will blow your mind.
New York based designer Phillip Lim worked on the costumes – they’re simple but striking in a black, white, midnight blue and oatmeal-cream colour palette. The cream tuxedo jacket worn by Kanye while he’s singing Runaway is a winner. And the bird’s wings were inspired by Alexander McQueen, who Kanye says is the person he wished could have brought the phoenix to life. Visual artist Vanessa Beechcroft masterminded the film’s look and feel.
There’s no doubt Runaway will be torn down by cynical critics, but it won’t stop Kanye West from charging ahead. Like he’s said himself in the past, “I could let them dream killers kill my self esteem/ Or use my arrogance as a steam to power my dreams.” I genuinely believe he’s the most inspiring performer (and speaker) I’ve ever come across.
He’s had a rough couple of years, but with three songs currently in the Top 40 charts, a fantastic little piece of cinema in Runaway and an album due out 19 November, Kanye West is back on top of his game.
And that impish sense of humour of his is still intact. When asked by a radio DJ in the audience why he doesn’t self-censor more of his songs to make them friendlier for daytime play, he paused for a moment, then grinned. “Well hey – rap is f*ckin’ hard, you know?”
Runaway will be released as a DVD accompaniment to Kanye West’s upcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, out November 19.
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