Review Revue: Critics React To Kanye West’s ‘Runaway’

Oct 25th, 2010 // 30 Comments

On Saturday, Kanye West premiered his first foray into filmmaking, the 35-minute abstract musical short, Runaway. (Watch it here.) Filled with over-the-top imagery, heavy metaphors and unexpected Michael Jackson tributes, we definitely expected reviews to be a mixed bag, and we were right. We rounded up the web’s reactions to Kanye’s Phoenix love story — head below to see if you agree with the critics.

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MTV Buzzworthy questions whether the film was able to express its true meaning without Kanye having to explain it for all of us, but “regardless of its true meaning, ‘Runaway’ is really pretty to watch, the music is great, and it reminds us once again why there is only one Mr. West.”

But in the eyes of the Smoking Section the film represented a clear victory (and vindication?) for West: “Whether you have a crystal flute glass or coffee mug, feel free to toast to the game’s greatest asshole. It’s safe to say his artistic hustle deserves it this time.”

The Playlist wasn’t as entertained, finding the film more or less dull: “The short is laborious, the pacing and symbolism obvious and West’s impulse to rely on slow-mo while he contemplates theatrical gestures a bit painful.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker thinks Kanye deserves praise for his efforts: “Given how controversial West’s every artistic gesture seems to have become, I have a feeling we’ll be in for a round of dismissals of Runaway as a pretentious piece. Instead, it deserves to be seen as a carefully modulated art-film made by a man on a mission.”

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Chicago Now’s Kyra Kiles tries to decipher the meaning of the abstract film in a scene-by-scene analysis. “Interesting imagery, excellent use of the soundtrack and it is something you think about long after you’ve seen it. Is it the 21st Century ‘Thriller?’ Hells no, but what is?”

Troy Cle at Marvelous World sees it both ways: “Some parts of ‘Runaway’ disappoint and seem lifeless, but that is oddly acceptable because some of it touches equally upon genius and that is a RARE find in anything.”

Jezebel does a shot-by-shot analysis, and notes that the “Runaway” ballet segment “is really beautifully shot. The choreography by Yemi Akinyemi is stunning, the music is spare, and the vibe is meditative.” They also pointed out that “his work exhibits quite a bit of sadness, which makes sense, following the year he spent being a punchline after losing his mother. But the ideas he’s exploring — feeding and nurturing your creativity and expressing yourself without harming yourself or others — is one many artists have tackled. But he’s done it in a lush, visually stimulating way that simultaneously promotes his album.

Pete Wentz (via MTV), who saw an theatrical screening of the film, said “It is the single most ambitious music video of the decade, if you could even put it in the category of a music video.”

And the only complaint Swizz Beatz (via MTV) had of the film is that it was too short. “On a 1 to 10, it was a 9… The reason why it was a 9 was because it should’ve been longer. It was a deep, deep story and you have to, one, know Kanye, to really understand it.”

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As for Idolator’s reactions to West’s film, our office is split — some thoroughly enjoyed it and were wonderfully mystified by Kanye’s choices, while a few others could barely make it to the end without their eyes rolling right out of their head. (Personally, I thought his cinematic endeavor was undoubtedly ambitious, but felt like it came from a pretentious and inexperienced first year film student with access to a huge budget. Plus, there was no reason for scenes to drag on and on, making much of it almost unbearable to get through — his “Power” video packed a stronger punch in 90 seconds than in Runaway‘s 35 minutes.)

However, we all can applaud Kanye for going above and beyond what’s expected of him. That, and the film’s 9-song soundtrack is totally making us crave his album even more.

What did you think of Kanye’s Runaway? Was it brilliant, contrived, or maybe even a bit of both?

  1. PheonixRising

    I can’t watch this film enough. Even when I’m not watching the visuals…
    the track alone is haunting and stirring.
    Pure Brilliance Mr. West.

  2. eric

    These are not “critics,” these are bloggers (except for Ken Tucker). Why don’t you just take You Tube comments from any random 24-year-old and put quotes around them?
    Would be more useful and entertaining.

    • Well, to be fair, if you critique something, you’re a critic! That may not be what it says on your business card, but when it comes to reviewing music videos (or whatever you’d call ‘Runaway’) for our Review Revue series, we’re more open-minded whose comments we pull.

  3. “I thought his cinematic endeavor was undoubtedly ambitious, but felt like it came from a pretentious and inexperienced first year film student with access to a huge budget. Plus, there was no reason for scenes to drag on and on, making much of it almost unbearable to get through ”

    Exactly!

  4. Jeff

    And watch the once aesthetic art of sarcasm be further verbally raped? No thanks.

  5. pure brilliance. the film is very dark almost at the beginning then the climax was the actual song runaway it captured Kayne’s complete emotion the rest got me questioning. I watched again and again and the finally bought the film track and album “My Twisted Dark Fantasy” and the album says it all this is kanye now don’t try to change him got a problem.. booohoo! Kanye points out things in all his songs in this album about how he feels and how he has been treated for who he is. all in all great film reccomend watching more than once!!!

  6. flipflop

    “I thought his cinematic endeavor was undoubtedly ambitious, but felt like it came from a pretentious and inexperienced first year film student with access to a huge budget. Plus, there was no reason for scenes to drag on and on, making much of it almost unbearable to get through ”

    “Exactly!”

    Couldn’t agree with you two more.

  7. Bethp88

    Theres only one word that I can use to describe ‘Runaway’ – Enchanting.

  8. Like any work of art, every one is left with their own interpretation. Here is mine:
    http://karpetheday.com/blog/2010/10/25/a-personal-interpretation/

  9. Michelle

    Is everyone going to ignore the obvious racial views Kanye has expressed in this film?

    We have a dinner table full of successful people, all of the same race, while other races (primarily Caucasian) serve and entertain them while Kanye takes credit for their brilliant performance. I think that most of us would agree today that this wasn’t acceptable when the roles were reversed. So why is it now? The roles in this video could have been filled by anyone, yet the choice was made to show separation. This is not a progressive choice. Rather that encouraging mutual success, statements like these encourage further generations of hostility. Why is it impossible for us to show the rise of one race without showing the fall of another?

    Regardless of how much talent, production, and beauty was seen in this film, what resonates with me is the political statements that were made.

  10. Personally, I have to say that I expected something that bared more substance with all the hype. I think that Kanye west should have taken more time to put everything all together; From the dialogue, to the directing and editing. I don’t see the “Genius” factor that so many are talking about. I think that with the technology and know how of film making that is available to anyone now-a-days, is enough to give you a clear idea of what a short film should have, in order for it to be a masterpiece. Kanye west needs to stick to raping and producing still. Runaway was nothing but amateur.

  11. Legsdiamond

    After watching this 34 minutes of odd turned beautiful, I had to admit this took far more talent and intellegence than the youngster girl who won vocalist of the year. Get my drift? No one has mentioned the fact that it isn’t very common to see animals filmed in such a way that it really did look like a dream, which is what Kanye said he wanted to happen with this film. I have a newfound respect for him.

  12. mirror, mirror in the heavens…
    the story we like to tell ourselves about the size of kanye’s ego might not be entirely sound. whatever the ego might turn out to be, it has been pushed to the backseat in a manner so welcome that it seems to have already hired a decorator. we live in an age where the cult of personality (others’ and one’s own) has been replaced by the cult of the fan. but the fan has no face, name, pulse or ego. the fan is an impure abstraction and one that refuses to be concretized. take the case of kanye– with so many infractions (of art and decorum) setting the blogosphere abuzz it is increasingly hard to imagine whose face his work sets aglow. it is easy, of course, to imagine a mass of bland, texted out, ethically and aesthetically challenged youth bowing down to the ones that purportedly serve them. and yes, it is not in imagination only that kanye has sold so many records, graced so many stages and magazine covers. but there is a twist here to the old story of bread and spectacle: while in the not-so-distant past our stars were tutoring us how to become stars, nowadays people like kanye west are teaching us how to be fans. this reversal is due to what could be called “the internet exemption,” or in a nutshell, the belief that everything has already been done and it is out there and the true artist is just a fine editor. this belief is the last thing you will hear confessed to by any “artist,” but is implicit in the new ethics of creation and appropriation.
    kanye is a special case because he comes from the world of hip hop, a culture whose early beginnings were gleefully, and ingeniously, disrespectful of copyright restrictions. on the other hand, however, his method of appropriation is voraciously ecumenical– no area of creativity is spared the scissors of this particular regurgitator. this may be almost as offensive to our pre-internet idea of original art as it sure is to our pre-internet idea of original editorial work. riding on the internet exemption is this new brand of artist, the producer-turned-blogger-turned-designer-turned-musician-turned-singer(?)-turned-director-while-all-the-while-having-at-all-times-been-a-pain. such branding is useful and significant in that it lays bare the simplistic fantasy that exposure (to others and to information) equals accomplishment.
    and this is how kanye gets to make “runaway,” a short film or a half-hour-too-long music video to accompany a new record release. in it, one is invited to gorge on a sleek color aesthetic, a naggingly discrepant soundtrack ostensibly quilted from the future release, and a haphazard non-story about inter-species love, interstellar collisions and interpersonal discord. everything the viewer registers owes its claim to our attention to other things we have already been exposed to. at best, the film is a superb work of indiscriminate derivation. there is so much to enjoy visually (a feather-clad lingerie model being one of the lesser joys amongst extravagant ballerina formations, empty high-modernist spaces and domesticated does) that it is made difficult to care about coherence, story-telling or musical background. and that is only a part of the problem–not realizing the primacy of sight over all other senses suggests a missed connection of a larger kind, i.e. between operatic ambition and opera. kanye obviously likes all things in his film but he seems to even more strongly like us to like them. the loop of fragmentary gestures of thumbs up or no thumbs at all closely resembles the alternations of zeroes and ones onto the tape of a turing machine. the more likes the better. kanye is really his own best fan not because of egomaniacal artistic confidence but because he can’t help embracing the culture that birthed him. ultimately, his only available shot at stardom is by being a loyal fan.

  13. alext

    Michelle you seem to have fixated yourself on a very minor detail in that film, if Kanye had used all black waiting staff would you have been more comfortable, should i feel uncomfortable if im served by an all white waiting staff with my black family? It really isnt that unusual in the rest of the world (especially eastern europe where the film was made) to be served by staff that are made up of the local ethnicity, so if that is white why should we play to tokenism just to appease your ignorance.

  14. E. Rodgers

    Yes, and knowing this, doesn’t it make it a little endearing?
    If it WAS a first year pretentious film student, we would maybe applaud him more and be a little more encouraging and supportive of his ambitions. We may say – it aint perfect but the future could be bright for you young artistic hustler.

    INSTEAD, cuz it’s Kayne, he’s supposed to do big celebrity things? And make videos worthy of MIchael Jackson status? And win awards?

    It is very true, there are many filmmakers out there who could wow us if they had Kanye’s budget, and would make huge waves in their industry if they could host a screening for big Hollywood names and all that jazz.
    But because it’s Kanye, it’s painful? If so, is that not just Kanye resentment?

    Accept that he’s not a film bigshot, and that he’s no MJ as an artist, and you may observe aspects of the film to enjoy like I did.

  15. sara

    WTF IS THIS DAMN MOVIE ABOUT?????? the trailer is pointless to watch and understand in less you are high

  16. Deni

    I saw the thing from beginning to End, and as a former Kanye fan i will say this- Some of the Imagery was great but unfortunately the best parts of the film where the ones that didnt have Kanye’s acting in it or his little story about him trying to teach his oversexed bird about his world. The woman playing the phoenix should never act, and i kept waiting for the porn soundtrack to start in the backgroung everytime she came on screen. She was obviously picked because she looked really good half naked and in feathers, why he couldnt find a better actress that looked just as good is beyong me. The music of course was amazing but thats really what this film is, eye candy with nice music in the background. Nothing more, nothing less. Some nice shots and couple of minutes of good music does NOT an Epic make. The problem with people like Kanye is that his Ego becomes so Big that even though he is truly talented he begins to think that anything he throws at us is Epic including this mediocre piece of film. I have seen comercials that moved me more than this film did. Please excuse me if i mispelled any words English is not my first language. :-)

  17. Shelby

    This is not art, this is satanic worship. This is Kanye showing that he’s sold his soul to the illuminati for his fame and fortune. The phoenix obviously represents Lucifer (who fell from heaven to Earth for trying to be greater than God), and her sitting next to Kanye represents his relationship with satan. I can’t believe you people don’t see this. Michael Jackson was the same way, and when he tried to get out of his contract with the illuminati is when he died. Once you’re in with the illuminati you can’t get out, and when you try to get out is when they kill you. That’s why he’s running away with it. He’d rather be rich, famous, and worship the devil than to be dead. If you actually listen to all of Kanye’s lyrics and have a deep understanding of Kanye’s video’s than this would be completely obvious to you, but the media is part of the illuminati, they control what the people think. You all are retarded for thinking this film is great or thinking you really know the truth behind it. Do your research or go to college and learn how to research, then you’ll actually understand it.

  18. Shelby, that’s one view of it, and more opinions are always welcomed But by dismissing everyone else’s ideas by calling us “retarded” and saying the video’s message is “completely obvious” is a great way to devalue anything that you have to say. It’s tough to take criticism from someone who preemptively dismisses other’s thoughts in her first post..

  19. Xiola Red

    This film is a compilation of Kanye as a being. All the things he is and isn’t, the things he loves and hates, being a slave and being a mater, ideas of god and satan, fears and dreams, in life and what await you in death. A nice yin-yang video so to speak. The balance of himself. His own angels and demons painted on screen for us to watch and only appreciate. He is still a very rich hip-hop artist who incorporates all the art and bling of that world as well. It’s a story, enhanced by artistic filming, that shows us and tells us who and what he is in his own way. I think the only person who truly can understand the full meaning is Kanye himself. The rest of us are to construct our own interpretations.

    It means what ever you think it means. For me, it’s about something beautiful~possibly the most graceful and unconforming soul (or idea) you will ever come across, that makes you grow and look at this cold world with the warm eyes you had as a child. That person (or idea) that shapes your life, by the very fact that it lives, is something you can never keep or hold onto. And in life, one of the greatest things we will ever learn to do: is learn to let go. Of material things. Of people. Of love.

    Of everything.

    Including the meaning of this video. *exhale*

    Back to life kids, the world awaits you and the mark you will leave…

  20. Kat

    All I can say is wow… You are brilliant and should write for a living…

  21. Kat

    This film is simply about Kanye being beautifully conflicted in life. I love to watch him dance with his demons and angels hoping he will realize where he really belongs one day. I am a fan. Luv you Kanye.

  22. LooseIfFar

    lol at the dude callin everyone else idiots.. My friend, yur conspiracy theories need research themselves.. If this phoenix symbolizes satan… then why does it go back up?? I thought satan resided in the underworld.. Illuminati? Lol.. I can fax yu a prozac prescription bro.

  23. Sean

    I thought the film was pretty interesting, and although there are some segments that were a bit of an eyeroll, there were others that caught my attention.
    The dinner scene in particular was interesting, and some are calling it racist, that is mighty reactionary. I think it is more of a comment ON racism and predjudice.
    Here he presents this opposite situation of what we are used to, blacks seated at a table being served by whites, a situation some blacks desperately hope for. Yet he shows that in this situation his own folks are perfectly capable of being just as racist and unable to understand as anybody. Its an interesting comment on the human condition, that everyone can be guilty of rejecting what they can’t understand.

    The rest of the movie, meh, it was certainly pretty tho. And I am really blown away by any mainstream artist even attempting this. The whole thing is kind of an in between art film and mainstream media. Subtly was never Kanye’s thing and for him to even ATTEMPT it floors me.

    For those who call Kanye racist, I don’t see it, not in his tastes, what he says, or who he works with. It just seems popular to hate on him right now, really ya’ll should be judging yourselves instead of others. At least Kanye has the balls to say what he thinks.

  24. terebi-kun

    That’s crazy talk, man.

  25. kai

    Short and sweet; Kanye, good try.. stick to making music. Video was pretty, but that was about it. Songs were for the most part unbearable. I expected more from Kanye personally, and I think people are looking into meaning when there isn’t any. Anyone can give meaning to something and I think South Park touched on it brilliantly in The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs (Season 14 Episode 2) the controversy over writing a “naughty book” where people found dept of political and characteristic sense… anyways, Terrible, Kanye. I give it a 4/10.

  26. elecPulse

    I agree with the racial statement but then again on your question: “Why is it impossible for us to show the rise of one race without showing the fall of another?” there is a rather philosophical answer – the rise of one implies a relative fall of another.

    The movie was a beautiful piece with a lot of visual symbolism but nonetheless an honorable attempt by the artist and for that I give him credit!

    p.s. I personally think that the phoenix symbolizes Kanye, the white people symbolizes blacks and the black people symbolizes who the whites (and predominant world ) think they are through Kanye’s eyes,

  27. elecPulse

    I agree with the racial statement but then again on your question: “Why is it impossible for us to show the rise of one race without showing the fall of another?” there is a rather philosophical answer – the rise of one implies a relative fall of another.

    The movie was a beautiful piece with a lot of visual symbolism but nonetheless an honorable attempt by the artist and for that I give him credit!

    p.s. I personally think that the phoenix symbolizes Kanye, the white people symbolizes blacks and the black people symbolizes who the whites (and predominant world ) think they are through Kanye’s eyes,

  28. Tori

    What I like about this film is that is the view from the other side of the fence, from where I stand as an angry, worn out feminist. He sees the errors of his ways, as they manifest in a deeply unsatisfying life for him, but he is unable to express the journey to his half awakening of the suffering that women endure, unless it is doused with honey and sex. The problem I see with this film is that he doesn’t even understand enough about his own unhappiness to clearly communicate it. In the many attempts at truly shedding light on the terrible damage focusing on the female body does brings up such feelings of regret, defensiveness, confusion and moral upheaval that it is written off or ignored. Until women are ready to say enough if enough, we will be slaves to our effect on dicks.

  29. Milo

    The fact that the serving staff are predominantly white isn’t intended to express some sort of black supremacist message as you have been led to believe Michelle. It’s more a comment on the progression blacks have made in all forms of society, be it sport, music, film or anything else. The irony is that despite centuries of oppression because of the colour of their skin during the slavery and post-slavery era, though the influence/importance of blacks had been vehemently suppressed by white, Caucasian people, we see that on a significant scale that blacks have overcome many of these obstacles to succeed in modern society i.e. as equals. Kanye West isn’t mocking white people here, he is mocking the ultimate failure of centuries of black oppression.

    Having said this, I agree with much of what the article has said and found Kanye West’s acting at times a little uncomfortable and yes, the film could have done more to connect the numerous dots it itself makes. Still, as a huge Kanye West fan I loved Runaway – I may not be as familiar with Kanye as Swizz Beats is but I understand that to understand the film you have to understand the music and thus understand Kanye West.

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