The Runaways Vs. The Perils Of Rock 'N' Roll A new movie charts the rise and fall of the teenage all-girl band from the 1970s. Fueled by a rebellious spirit, The Runaways achieved fame with the hit "Cherry Bomb," but not without encountering the pitfalls of the rock star lifestyle. Director Floria Sigismondi discusses the film's portrayal of the young musicians.
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The Runaways Vs. The Perils Of Rock 'N' Roll

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The Runaways Vs. The Perils Of Rock 'N' Roll

The Runaways Vs. The Perils Of Rock 'N' Roll

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(Soundbite of song, "Cherry Bomb")

THE RUNAWAYS (Music Band): (Singing) Can't stay at home, can't stay at school. Old folks say, ya poor little fool. Down the street...


The Runaways were an all-girl teenage punk band in the 1970s. Fired by rebellious spirits and overt sexuality, they were famous for a time and had one big hit, "Cherry Bomb."

(Soundbite of song, "Cherry Bomb")

THE RUNAWAYS: (Singing) Hello world, I'm your wild girl. I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb.

WERTHEIMER: A new movie called "The Runaways," which feels like a fast-moving music video, is a very condensed and intense account of the brief history of the band and their sometimes upsetting relationship with their manager.

The Runaways fizzled out after only a few albums but their legacy lives: every time a young woman plugs in an electric guitar and stands toe to toe with the guys.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Runaways")

Mr. MICHAEL SHANNON (Actor): (as Kim Fowley) The Runaways have the most chance of any group I've seen do what The Beatles did: tear this world apart.

WERTHEIMER: The film's director is Floria Sigismondi, and she joins me from NPR West in California. Welcome.

Ms. FLORIA SIGISMONDI (Director, "The Runaways"): Hello, Linda. How are you?

WERTHEIMER: I am fine. I'm wondering if you listened to The Runaways when you were growing up.

Ms. SIGISMONDI: I did a little bit later on. I'm a little bit younger so I discovered them when I was in art college. What I liked about this band in particular was that they were all girls and they kind of looked real bad ass.

WERTHEIMER: The Runaways was a dream of the band's guitarist and songwriter Joan Jett. In the movie, there's a scene where she runs into a record producer who's name is Kim Fowley, and he is just a total dirty old man and a brutal awful person. He basically assembles the band around Joan Jett, but he still needs a girl to take the front of the stage. Tell the story about how he finds Cherie Currie.

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Well, they went searching for her together and they actually found her at the Sugar Shack, which is a small, kind of underage club, and basically approached her for her look. She had this sort of Bowie quality about her but he was, you know, looking for this Brigitte Bardot kind of front girl and definitely was looking for a blond.

WERTHEIMER: Michael Shannon is the actor who plays Kim Fowley, and this is one of their first rehearsals. Kim Fowley has just heard Cherie Currie singing and it's not the sound he wants.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Runaways")

Mr. SHANNON: Now, growl, moan. This isn't about women's limb, kiddies. This is about women's libido. I want to see the scratch marks down their (beep) backs. All right. Do it again.

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING (Actress): (as Cherie Currie) (Singing) I'll give you something to live for. Have ya, grab ya, 'til you're sore. Hello, daddy. Hello, mom. I'm a ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb.

WERTHEIMER: Modern-day fans of The Runaways look back at these girls as rule breakers and feminists. But in the movie they seem to be victimized. How do you see them?

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Well, you know, I think of them as feminists, although, you know, if you read interviews at 15, they're saying we're not feminists. And I think it just felt for them that this was normal, that of course we can do this. But I don't think it was that they knew that that's what they were doing, so they didn't have this feminist flag that they were waving around except for, what's the matter, why can't we do this?

WERTHEIMER: Well, Cherie Currie in the film just absolutely gets the worst of this whole business. She starts out as a kid. She's 15 years old, she's taken in by the band, they immediately go on tour, she's introduced to sex, drugs and rock and roll, and it's not long before she is a total addict. Was this inescapable for her? Was it who she was that she should crash like this?

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Well, I think that, you know, coming from a broken family and it really kind of affecting her so much that she was kind of finding something to fill her void. And this felt like the perfect answer until she kind of got into it and got swept away with the secondhand love of the fans, and the drugs kind of softening that pain.

But I think in the end, you know, I look at her as sort of like a hero getting out at the right time and sort of knowing that this is not something that's going to make her feel better.

WERTHEIMER: Managing to save her life just barely. What was the relationship between Joan Jett and Cherie Currie? I mean, in the film it looks loving and protective like it's the only relationship like that that Cherie has.

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Yeah. You know, I think in the beginning, Joan kind of took the place of her sister because she had a twin and was super close to her sister, although, you know, at that age, at 15, she was trying to create her own identity and separate herself from her sister. So, I think Joan at the beginning kind of took that role but then, you know, they saw the world very differently. You know, Joan had a very different dream of the band than Cherie did.

WERTHEIMER: There's an interesting scene between the two of them where Kim Fowley has essentially bullied Cherie into posing for some sex kitten photographs in a Japanese magazine. The rest of the band didn't know about it, and when Joan Jett found out, she just throws a fit. Joan Jett is, I should say, played by the vampire girl Kristen Stewart. And she chastises Cherie, Dakota Fanning.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Runaways")

Ms. KRISTEN STEWART (Actress): (as Joan Jett) What is this? You think anybody's going to take us seriously?

Ms. FANNING: (as Cherie Currie)(Unintelligible).

Ms. STEWART: What were you thinking? Publicize the music not your crotch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: You know, in this very compressed timeframe in the movie, Cherie Currie is just very soon leaves the band. What happened to Cherie?

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Cherie's a chainsaw carver in the valley, and she makes art out of pieces of wood.

WERTHEIMER: Using a chainsaw?

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Yeah, and she wins awards and stuff, yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Well, I would think that Mr. Fowley probably shouldn't come calling on a woman who carves big blocks of wood with a chainsaw.

Ms. SIGISMONDI: I think he stayed away from her for a long time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Although I think they're now friends.

WERTHEIMER: Floria Sigismondi is the director of the new film "The Runaways." It was released nationally this weekend. Floria, thank you very much.

Ms. SIGISMONDI: Thank you. My pleasure.

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