Last week, the runaway train of Kanye West’s ambition once more jumped the rails to another artistic medium. As proven by the erstwhile MC’s recent dalliances in the world of fashion, Yeezy is constitutionally unable to satisfy himself by occupying a single culture outlet, even if the rest of the world kind of wishes he would. It’s a testament to the man’s energy that he’s been able to make such a solid go of it across so many disciplines, but the premier of Cruel Summer, West’s feature directorial debut, has left a some of the film world’s greater scions scoffing at the rapper’s liberal mixture of advertising and artistic statement.
Although the consensus on West’s micro-epic Runaway tended dramatically towards the positive, the reaction to Cruel Summer, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last week, has focused more on the rapper’s willingness to intermarry high-art posturing with flagrant self-promotion. In fact, a couple of critics have posited that West is simply unable to distinguish between the two.
In a caustic review of Cruel Summer’s car park-bound premier, The Guardian characterized the film as “business as usual…this is Kanye selling Kanye, through the latest method that’s grabbed his fancy.”
Indeed, even those more receptive to the film have found it difficult to avoid mentioning its more flagrantly commercial aspects. GQ editor Lauren Hill’s tweets about the premier made much of its prominent placement of Kid Cudi, both within the film’s narrative and soundtrack.
Kanye is also employing Cruel Summer’s Middle Eastern setting as the primary motif in his marketing campaign for G.O.O.D. Music’s upcoming compilation album. Between the film’s quasi-controversial setting (Qatar), reported love of bombast and heavy reliance on visual gimmickry for its execution, Cruel Summer seems very much like an extended music video, which I think we can all agree that it is. As such, Cruel Summer will live or die according to how much buzz it generates, and so far it seems like it’s doing just fine in that department, even if most of us will never get to see it.
While there has been plenty of talk surrounding the 30-minute film, a major drawback of West’s insistence on visual gimmickry is that we mere, non-press-pass-having mortals are unlikely to see the thing in person. Cruel Summer screened in a specially designed tent that allowed for the proper display of its seven-screen format. As The Guardian pointed out, that tent was placed at a good 40-minute remove from the Cannes Festival proper, but even if West won’t be placing any Palmes d’Or next to the Grammys on his trophy shelf, he can at least pat himself on the back for having once more tested just how far pop culture artifacts can be pushed.