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FLASH FRIDAY: West's Beautiful Dark Twisted RUNAWAY

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Today we are taking a look at a complete anomaly. An oddity. Is it a music video? Is it a short film? Is it an actual musical? Is it the modern movie musical masterpiece of the millennium? Yes. Yes. Yes. And: oh, yes. It is Kanye West's RUNAWAY - the forty minute promotional film accompanying his forthcoming MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY album, which will be released at the end of this month - and any fan of music, film, theatre or entertainment in general would be best advised to set aside some time - immediately - to enter this strange and spellbinding world that West has created with Hype Williams in this masterful, unforgettable, genre-bending enterprise showcasing the absolute essence of great entertainment synergy and bringing all the fine arts together in one beautifully presented, elegantly wrapped and jewel-encrusted gift of genius. It has everything and, yes, it is that good. See for yourself.

RUNAWAY is part Federico Fellini, part David Lynch, part Busby Berkley - and all Kanye West. You may love him or loathe him as a performer, but his skill and ingenuity as an artist is not up for discussion, here or elsewhere. West, along with Lady Gaga, is the very voice of the 21st century in the entertainment industry. His songs are an integral part of the soundtrack of the lives of anyone born after 1984 or so (as I was). He changed the way rap was used to tell a story in song and how sampling can actually improve upon an original with his COLLEGE DROPOUT debut, he virtually rewrote the way a song could be sung in the new digital age with his groundbreaking 808s & HEARTBREAK album and, now, with MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY, West has once again completely changed-up the game and has rewritten the rules of how a prospective musical project could possibly be done, setting his perspective sights and pioneering sounds on reinventing the only wholly original American art form besides rap: the musical. No question about it, RUNAWAY is as much a musical as The Who's TOMMY or Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT or even Sondheim's ASSASSINS. The songs tell the surreal story in a way that words never could, and the images, characters, plot, style and structure West utilizes to tell the story of RUNAWAY is something slightly short of staggering genius. It is impossible for me to find any reason to call RUNAWAY anything other than sublimely, earth-shatteringly innovative and overflowing - and sometimes seething - with every human emotion - anger to eros, utter confusion to overwhelming omnipresence, pleasure and pain, loss and power.

It's Shakespearean. A tragedy. It's the story of a king, after all. It's also a story of love, loss and relational communication. More than anything else, though, it's the story of power - the power to rule, the power to love, the power to live and, most of all, the power of acceptance and forgiveness. For anyone - for all of us - kings and vagabonds alike. I do not know if West would or could have written and directed this masterpiece if he had not had the turbulent year that he has had so far, so - as with all personal and/or public tragedies that give way to something better, brighter and timeless as expressed in art - perhaps Taylor Swift is owed something for the resounding success of RUNAWAY. Maybe not. One thing is for sure, Kanye packs more punch, polish, pizzazz and style in one verse in RUNAWAY than Swift has over the course of two entire solo albums. It's not a contest, anyway. Kanye West has no equal and, now, with RUNAWAY, proves he may very well be the visionary artist of an entire generation in any medium, whether it be music, film, theatre or art. To quote Voltaire, by way of John LaTouche in Leonard Bernstein's similarly misunderstood masterpiece CANDIDE, RUNAWAY has "the best of all possible worlds".

The essence of all of the greatest Western and Eastern art - from Aristotle to Aristophanes, from Michelangelo to Michael Jackson, from Shakespeare to Sondheim and, now, from Kurosawa to Kanye - is the purest distillation of humanity in a verse, a melody, an image or a dance. RUNAWAY displays West's unbelievable, almost super-human verbal dexterity and lyrical prowess, his beyond-reproach ear for melody and superbly selected hooks with the occasional sample (always in the very best taste), and brings it all together in an entertainment experience completely unlike anything I have ever seen before. I've seen a lot of plays and musicals, and read even more; I've listened to tens of thousands of albums, and reviewed hundreds in this column alone; I consider myself an authority on film - with RUNAWAY, Kanye West has broken every single rule and virtually reinvented not only what a musical movie can be, but also what a movie or a work of art can be. Perhaps most praiseworthy of all is the fact that Kanye West has changed the what, who, why and how of the way music can tell a story and, furthermore - the most revolutionary aspect of all - West has altered how we ourselves see, hear, feel and relate to the emotions expressed by the words, images and music in his film by the way in which he has created, crafted and directed it. RUNAWAY is a runaway success and, coming at the tail end of one of the worst decades for art of any kind in American history, it sets the bar exceptionally high for all music, film, theatre and art that will follow in the rest of this century from now - and 2011 - on. Let's have a toast for the douchebags, indeed, and one for the as*holes. If only we all were this good - excuse me, genius - at what we do, perhaps we would ascribe those terms to ourselves as well. West is one of his self-professed "jerk-offs who'd never take work off" and it shows in every word, note, phrase, step, cut, angle and emotion - and what beautiful, dark, twisted emotions - expressed, explored and exhibited, in full, in Kanye West's exquisite RUNAWAY.

Kanye West - RUNAWAY

 

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Pat Cerasaro Pat Cerasaro is BroadwayWorld's Chief Interviewer and Senior Editor, contributing exclusive columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Flash Fridays as well as additional special features and extensive news coverage. His work for the site has appeared in The New York Times, US Weekly, The Biography Channel, NBC and more.