The history of showbiz is jam-packed with stories of sleazy con men cashing-in on the talents of naïve neophytes eager for a shot at fame and riches. But few could ever hope to come close to being as colorfully freaky as self-styled Hollywood rock impresario–and ace bullshitter–Kim Fowley. In Victory Tischler-Blue’s fascinating documentary, “Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways,” a portrait emerges of Fowley as the cunning, but twisted manager who took teen rockers Joan Jett’s and Kari Krome’s idea for an all-female band and turned it into (at least in part) underage sexploitation–complete with Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie. While simultaneously assuring the girls’ parents that they were going to be superstars, Fowley used name-calling and other low-grade tactics to keep the girls from asserting themselves.
In the context of the film, the tales of Fowley’s odd, darkly humorous behavior might have overpowered the girls’ own stories if they weren’t as damaged by the experience. We learn, among other things, that original lead vocalist Cherie Currie had an abortion due to her affair with one of Fowley’s management team; bassist Jackie Fox had a brief emotional meltdown of sorts while on tour in Japan that lead to her quitting the band; and drummer Sandy West has had perhaps the darkest journey since the band’s demise with a harrowing descent into a life of crime and even some jail time.
One problem the film comes up against is the non-participation of guitarist/vocalist Joan Jett. There’s little doubt that Jett’s insights into putting the band together and her feelings about what it all meant would’ve been welcome. But it is a testament to Tischler-Blue’s (who was a member of the Runaways as “Vicki Blue”) skill as an interviewer and filmmaker that she manages to get the other Runaways to open-up so much that Jett’s absence is all but forgotten.
“Edgeplay” is fast-moving, entertaining (with some great live footage of the band) and gripping account of the perils of rock stardom.