The Runaways: Great band, but the story's out of control

A film about my heroines, all-girl rock group the Runaways, doesn't tell the whole truth, says 16-year-old Elsa Vulliamy
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The Independent Culture

It's a story that's got everything: sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, and a big dose of female attitude. No wonder Sony Pictures seized the chance to tell the story of my favourite band, the Runaways, in a movie. It's just a shame it's not really their story at all.

The Runaways, the self-titled "Queens of Noise", were formed in 1975, with an average age of 16 (the age I am now). Nowadays, it is difficult to remember a time when forming an all-girl rock band was something that would stir the public, disrupt the media. But this was exactly what the Runaways were designed to do. A 16-year-old Joan Jett, oozing hormones from every pore, meeting with the late Sandy West, so it seems, caused some sort of explosion. Jett and West both had the same idea: to form a relentless, powerful and all-female rock band, something that had never been done before. The lucky beneficiary of this? Kim Fowley, renowned record producer and ardent exploiter. The Runaways had been an idea long before they had been a band, growing in Fowley and Jett's minds alike. However, while Joan wanted to empower and inspire girls, Kim Fowley's plan was to sell them as a product.

The Runaways movie is perfect viewing for the anxious, out-of-place teenage girl, whether or not her knowledge of this type of music goes past the Britney Spears cover of "I Love Rock'n'Roll". Where else does one get to see Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning doing cocaine in an aircraft toilet, and having controversial sexual relations with each other? Exciting, no? But biopic? This is little more than a fictionalised mainstream chick-flick, perhaps with a tad more swearing.

While the movie depicts "girl power", the Runaways in reality were moulded to conform to the ideals of men. Before they knew it, young Joan and Sandy's dream of an all-girl rock band, made to put boys in their place, was whipped from underneath them and they became puppets, feeding Fowley's greed.

Fowley assured the girls' parents that they would be well looked-after. Their manager, Scott Anderson, was to cater to their every need. The truth? It seems that they were deprived of money and food, supposedly exposed to drug-fuelled parties, and reportedly the band's bassist, Jackie Fox, was the only one who did not sleep with Anderson.

Then there was the physical abuse, from having microphone stands thrown at them and regular verbal abuse. The band became a chore, an experience that can be summarised by what Marilyn Monroe once said: "Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered."

The movie, of course, shows nothing of this, nor of Fox's attempted suicide, or Currie's mid-tour abortion. The relationship between Currie and Anderson is portrayed in the movie as glamorous and daring, with no hint of the pain and exploitation experienced by the girls, who always seem to be smiling and laughing.

This film is bound to reach millions of young women, probably leading half of them to form a rock band despite not being able to play anything. Girls, you're being sold a lie. Give this movie a miss and instead track down Edgeplay: a Film about The Runaways, a documentary that tells the story of the Runaways as it really was, made by band members. Sex sells, as Fowley knew, and it still does. The girl power and glamour in the movie is not the reality. Nowadays, it seems to be common knowledge that for female musicians, the fewer clothes that are worn, the more records are sold. Fowley was one of the first men to profit from this – but he certainly wasn't the last.

'The Runaways' is currently in cinemas nationwide