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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Edgeplay - A Film About The Runaways
Edgeplay - A Film About The Runaways
Image // Unrated // April 5, 2005
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 3, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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No one watches a music documentary for a cheerfully nostalgic look back on a band's career. They want sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and that pretty much sums up the story of teenaged femme-rockers The Runaways throughout their shortlived career in the mid-to-late '70s. Edgeplay adheres to a very linear structure, starting off with the germ of an idea that would bring the band together and concluding with the events that split them apart, but after a lengthy retelling of how these five girls became The Runaways, it's more or less wall-to-wall dirt. Drug abuse. Mental anguish. Abusive, sleazy, manipulative management. Abortion. The jailbait image. Bisexuality, including some trysts within the all-girl group. A suicide attempt. The arguments and internal strife; even though they thought of each other as sisters, no one girl seemed to get along with more than one or two of her bandmates at any given time. I don't want to delve into any of those stories in detail because, y'know, that's the documentary's job, but Edgeplay seems like a very honest, very comprehensive look back at the band's chaotic, destructive days from the people who lived it.

Most of the key figures in the band's history are interviewed, even eccentric puppetmaster Kim Fowley (although the interviews were apparently licensed from VH1 and not conducted especially for this documentary), who's reviled pretty much from beginning to end. Also offering their insight into The Runaways are songwriter Kari Krome, inspiration Suzi Quatro, manager Toby Mamis, band members Sandy West, Jackie Fox, Lita Ford, Cherie Currie, and Vicki Blue, and even a couple of their mothers. One notable omission is Joan Jett, who declined to have anything to do with the production and appears only in archival footage and stills. I'm not entirely sure why she refused, especially since she comes off in a better light than any of the other founding members of the band do. Some comments about drugs and bisexuality are admittedly pointed her way (but certainly not exclusively), and Jett's described as the talented, level-headed peacemaker without whom the band would've fractured almost immediately.

Edgeplay is a lot looser than most of the other documentaries I've seen, but I mean that in a good way. The majority of these sorts of band retrospectives make sure the interviewees speak in complete, concise sentences directed towards no one in particular. In Edgeplay, sometimes the band members sound like they're just chatting with director Victory Tischler-Blue, and for good reason. Edgeplay isn't helmed by some fan who thought The Runaways would be an okay concept for a documentary; Vicki Blue played bass for the group for a couple of years. I think that probably added some level of comfort during the one-on-one interviews, which is of critical importance since that's what drives the film. There's no narration stringing things together -- it's all conversation. The photography has a raw, less formal feel to it too. The camera isn't stationary and sometimes shakes as it's moving around. The editing incorporates a couple of parts where the interviewees stumble over themselves in conversation, and some bits continue after they're really over, lingering on with some giggling and a little banter with the crew. Some reviews might be critical of that approach and call it unprofessional. I think those sorts of 'in-between' moments give more of an idea of the personalities of these people than what can be gleaned from the meat of an interview. This is a documentary about these people and what they went through, not some sterile discourse about youth, celebrity, influence, or whatever, so I think that contributes to the intimate, personal sense that is such a large part of the appeal of Edgeplay.

Edgeplay is a fantastic documentary, one that goes in for the kill almost immediately and maintains that momentum for more than an hour and a half. Viewers should have at least a passing familiarity with the band before sitting down with Edgeplay; the documentary doesn't open with a brief description of the band and how important a group they really were the way you might with an episode of "Behind the Music". An intimate knowledge of the band's line-up and history isn't necessary, but intrigued readers might want to brush up with an overview from the All Music Guide or some similar resource before heading to the video store.

Video: Edgeplay is letterboxed (and sometimes slightly windowboxed, meaning there are black bars on all four sides of the image) to a pretty unusual aspect ratio -- somewhere in the vicinity of 2.13:1. The documentary isn't enhanced for widescreen displays, but the footage has enough of a low-resolution appearance to begin with that it probably doesn't matter. The archival footage is pretty soft, with a lot of it either shot on 8mm or really low quality 16mm and even then seemingly culled from multigeneration dubs off an old video master. The more recently-taped interviews weren't shot on particularly high-end equipment and don't look like they were all that meticulously composed and lit. Obviously, this doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the documentary itself, but part of a DVD review is relentlessly nitpicking its home theater-ishness, and in that respect, Edgeplay doesn't impress.

Audio: Since this is a documentary about a rock band, it probably goes without saying that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (448Kbps) puts its emphasis on music and dialogue since that's really all there is. The surrounds reinforce the songs and various other bits of music, as well as incorporating some crowd noise from some of the Japanese concert footage, and the subwoofer remains pretty active throughout. The sound quality of the interviews varies, but the participants are usually easy enough to understand. The music is occasionally too prominent in the mix, requiring a little bit of concentration to make out the interviews. One of the band's managers phones in a few comments, and I probably missed half of what he said because it was too buried in the mix. Because of some extenuating circumstances, including Joan Jett's refusal to participate, there aren't a lot of vintage Runaways songs (even then thin-sounding covers of songs like "Wild Thing" and The Velvet Underground's "Rock and Roll"), but the songs new and old that did make the soundtrack come through reasonably well.

A Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track (224Kbps) is also offered, and neither subtitles nor closed captions are included.

Supplements: A video gallery serves up a six-minute montage of behind the scenes footage with assorted other clips that are strung together with a couple of voiceovers, including some additional comments from Kim Fowley. The only other extras are three promotional trailers, including one infused with a little Spinal Tap. It's probably worth noting that five and a half minutes of outtakes follow the end credits.

I didn't have a chance to look at the final packaging, but the DVD itself includes a set of animated 4x3 menus and a total of 21 chapter stops.

Conclusion: Edgeplay is an unabashedly honest look back at one of the most influential bands you've probably never heard of, told entirely by the people who defined and lived it. Very highly recommended as a rental; recommended as a purchase.

Related Links: The documentary has an official website with a trailer, a forum, and some of the expected overview information on the film.
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