You’re not going to hear "Queens of Noise" or any other Runaways songs in this rock-doc to make you reconsider these gutsy gals’ place in the grrrl power, punk or pop pantheons. That’s because the usually genial Joan Jett was so violently opposed to this look-see, she prohibited director Victory Tischler-Blue (the former Vicki Blue to you) from using the group’s original recordings. All you hear of the band’s music are two live versions of cover songs plus a lot of solo Lita Ford and Suzi Quatro, the group’s chief inspiration. Which makes me think you’ll have to wait for a Donnas documentary to hear "Dead End Justice" come out of your DVD player.
Tischler-Blue pulls off the near impossible, making you care about the group without covering Joan’s side of the story. Even with Blair Witch camera work and a lot of the latter-day footage of the grownup Runaways staring out into space or running from pain like it’s a Mydol commercial during unpleasant reminisences, this is nonstop watching, even for nonfans.
While all the girls stop short of libeling their Snidely Whiplash of a manager, Kim Fowley, as a physical abuser, you’ve more compelling dirt than Cherie Currie’s tell-next-to-nothing book. You’ll hear which members of the group Cherie shagged, how everyone except Jackie played footsy under the sheets with the road manager who got Currie pregnant, why everyone hated Jackie and how these teens weren’t shielded from drugs, drink and mental anguish from Fowley, who’s even a bigger asshole here than in Mayor of the Sunset Strip because he never repeatedly called Rodney Bingenheimer "dogcunt." All the girls bravely display battle scars except for remorseless Lita Ford, who like the schoolyard bully feigns forgetfulness over every rough incident but can remember who threw up where. Sandy West’s closing plea to reunite the band so she doesn’t have to do construction work is perhaps the saddest admission to missing the spotlight since Pete Best identified his occupation as "ex-Beatle" on To Tell the Truth.
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].