Kanye West at his movie premiere: 'I contemplated suicide' [Updated]
Monday night’s Hollywood screening of “Runaway,” an expressionistic 40-minute movie written, directed by and starring Kanye West, gave a preview peek at the rapper-producer’s buzzy debut film project -– a visual “accompaniment” to his November album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” that will be broadcast simultaneously on MTV and BET on Saturday.
But then, coming on the heels of recent premieres in New York, Paris and London, this latest “Runaway” screening also functioned as a forum for the hip-hop superstar’s grandiose sense of self as well as West’s latest assertion of the increasing insignificance that mainstream media holds in his promotion process.
Describing himself as a “philanthropist of culture,” a “soldier” and a “cultural icon” in remarks after the screening, West admitted there were times he considered taking his own life, presumably at points after his mother’s accidental death in 2007.
“I contemplated suicide,” West told an audience consisting of friends, creative collaborators, radio programmers and media types.
He added: “I will not give up on life,” explaining he takes creative initiative from “people who will never have their voices heard.”
“Runaway” follows West’s character Griffin -– first seen driving a futuristic sports car not unlike the many fetishistic vehicles he frequently posts photos of on his blog -– who encounters the smoldering wreckage of what looks like an asteroid on a swervy mountain road. From the rubble he pulls a character called the Phoenix (portrayed by lingerie model Selita Ebanks), a pneumatic nymph with reflective white eyelashes and a barely there outfit of strategically positioned feathers.
She awakens in his tastefully appointed post-and-beam home with a television broadcasting the day’s stock market results. “First rule in this world, baby, don’t pay attention to anything you see in the news,” West remarks sharply before snapping the TV off.
From there, a jumble of arresting visuals supplies a non-linear narrative platform for portions of nine new songs from “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”: There is West sprinting down the road in an impeccably tailored suit, here are some baby goats frolicking in the grass. There is a giant papier-mâché likeness of Michael Jackson surrounded by people wearing red Ku Klux Klan hoods and here is West making hip-hop beats on a Roland 808 drum machine perched on top of a gilded Louix XIV end table. The Phoenix, meanwhile, is seen grooving out on a rococo sofa.
“Runaway’s” most arresting set piece was staged by Vanessa Beecroft, the celebrated Italian performance artist with whom West collaborated for the album release party for his last album, “808s & Heartbreak.”
The sequence features a large dinner party set inside a cavernous barn where everyone is dressed head to toe in white; all guests are black, all the servers are Caucasian. West’s frenemies and acquaintances gossip conspicuously about his date, the Phoenix. But the social parlor games are suddenly interrupted when West steps away from the table to tinkle at a piano and a troupe of ballerinas dressed in black tutus suddenly arrives to perform an interpretive dance set to the movie’s namesake song.
The song “Runaway,” it should be noted, addresses issues of human frailty by proposing a toast “to all the douchebags” and touches upon West’s latest scandal: naked photos of himself the rapper-producer is reported to have e-mailed to women he attempted to meet for sexual encounters on MySpace.
Although the film was shot over four days in Prague earlier this year, what scant dialogue it contains is inexplicably accompanied by French subtitles.
Arriving after weeks of build up on West’s Twitter account, with preview snippets first posted on West’s blog, “Runaway” has been a subject of fascination among pop watchers across the blogosphere. He has also “leaked” various tracks, remixes and studio outtakes from the new album through an initiative called G.O.O.D. Fridays to stoke buzz. Such anticipation-building tactics -- using social networking and vanity websites rather than traditional media forms such as TV interviews or magazine puff-profiles -- can be viewed as West’s deliberate rejection of traditional modes of promotion in lieu of a more DIY method that is unique to the Information Age.
In what was billed as a “Q&A” session after the screening (but which really amounted to a kind of stream-of-consciousness 15-minute soliloquy by the rapper-producer), West detailed the creative process that engendered “Runaway.” In short, a yearlong hiatus that allowed him to find his “inner 5-year old.”
“I moved to Rome for six months and interned at Fendi,” West said, invoking the venerable Italian fashion house. “It allowed me to be creative; for the first time to take a break since I recorded ‘Jesus Walks.’ ”
He recalled being galvanized by his foray into the shmatte biz: “We thought we could change the world with a coat!”
West also provided clues about what fans can expect on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”: production help from hip-hop elites including No-I.D., the RZA, Q-Tip and Pete Rock (who, in a typically Kanye cultural-dot-connecting manner, he mentioned in the same breath as fashion big shots Nicolas Ghesquière and Balenciaga).
And the polarizing rapper-producer also revealed that the album’s next single will be “All the Lights,” a song that enlists such pop A-listers as Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, La Roux’s Elly Jackson, Alicia Keys, Rihanna and Kid Cudi, with Elton John providing piano accompaniment.
“All on the same song,” West exclaimed. “It sounds seamless and yet ghetto as [heck].”
-- Chris Lee
[Update: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that "Runaway" had already been screened in Chicago. West will show the film there later this week. Also, an earlier version misidentified West's album title as "My Dark Twisted Fantasy." The correct name is "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." SORRY @kanyewest.]
Photo: Kanye West. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press