Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran’s eternal pixie, turns fifty today. To mark this august occasion, I’ve thrown together a special bonus Duranalysis: Arcadia’s 1985 video for “Election Day.”
Plans were originally in place to have Ridley Scott (!) direct this, but when his production schedule for Legend conflicted, Scott suggested Roger Christian, who’d been his art director on Alien, as a replacement. Christian, the Academy Award-winning set designer of Star Wars (and the future director of, ah, Battlefield Earth; I haven’t seen it, so I shan’t judge or mock, though I may quietly snicker, just a little), established a gorgeous visual style; really, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better-looking video.
Still, I have mixed feelings about this one. There’s a passage in Rolling Stone journalist Rob Sheffield’s coming-of-age memoir, Talking To Girls About Duran Duran, in which he refers, with affection, to the band’s “bat-shit pretensions.” I’m hesitant to give Nick and Simon too much flack here, because Duran Duran’s quest to synthesize pop music and art is one of its noblest achievements, but… look, Nick envisioned this video as an homage to the films of the mid-century French surrealist Jean Cocteau. Brace yourself for some bat-shit pretensions.
There are two versions of this video; I’m going to focus on the extended cut, which is about twice as long. Granted, most of that extra time is filled with shots of Nick and Simon shuffling around spastically like they’re auditioning for Sprockets, but it also has a bit more of a cohesive narrative than the short version. Here we go:
We open at some kind of fancy party, which is taking place in a… well, I’m not really sure. Contemporary mansion? Warehouse? Catacombs? Crumbling Gothic manor? Could be any or all. Simon and Nick stroll inside. Wow. Remember their proto-Goth Arcadia images—the spiky black hair, the black clothes, the dark eyebrows and heavy eyeliner—in the “Goodbye is Forever” video? Now crank that up to eleven. With his dark suit and grim countenance, Simon looks like a funereal groom trudging down the aisle, with Nick flanking him as his malevolent corpse bride. They look glamorous and evil, like a pair of supervillains from the best Roger Moore-era James Bond film never made.
Slithery men and dead-eyed women in stiletto heels and latex micro-dresses writhe about in an overheated manner. Some guy slumps against a wall, unconscious or dead. So, pretty much a typical evening at Chez Le Bon, circa 1985.
The boys split up. Simon spends most of the video dancing and nuzzling with a succession of leggy, scantily-clad beauties, leaving Nick to carry the bulk of this video’s weirdness on his slim shoulders. Nick is more than up to the challenge.
Nick slinks up to an artist (Tony Viramontes) sketching on the wall—he appears to be drawing an image of either Simon or Nick, but let’s face it, a whole lot of people in 1985 had that hairstyle—and places a black-gloved hand across the drawing. Undeterred, Viramontes scribbles something—an earring, looks like—right across Nick’s palm.
Nick then skulks off, pausing at frequent intervals to pout sexily and strike stylized poses. You know, I’d have more patience with this video if everyone would stop slinking and posing and just move at a natural pace. In the time it takes Nick to glide his way down a staircase, Simon manages to sing almost an entire verse. While Nick slithers down the stairs, someone who could be legendary author William S. Burroughs ogles him from a nearby alcove.
Yeah. William Burroughs appeared in an Arcadia video. Weird, right? Sure, there’s that whole established Burroughs/Duran Wild Boys connection, but I think the common (and probably correct) assumption is that none of the Durans had read any Burroughs before cheerfully plunging in to shoot a video based on his works. I can’t speak for everyone, but whenever I read Burroughs’s feverish prose—the gore, the rapes, the scat, the squick, the violence — none of it really screams “Duran Duran” to me.
(I should point out that I can’t say with certainty that that’s Burroughs. It sure looks like him, signature hat and all, and there’s a lot of unsubstantiated anecdotal chatter—hi, Wikipedia! —about his appearance here, but I haven’t found a trustworthy source to confirm this. On the official Duran Duran website, when asked about this video, Nick brought up some of the notables involved in it—for instance, Linda Evangelista appears as one of the party guests—but made no mention of Burroughs. Offhand, you’d think he’d have something to say about a cameo appearance from one of the most influential novelists of the 20th century. So I’m putting this only at a semi-firm “probably.” I try to keep my facts straight, but I am by no means a Duran expert. As always, kids: If you’re writing a thesis on the boys, please triple-check everything I say.)
Simon is still occupied with various leggy women on the dance floor. Nick enters a dining room filled with awkwardly-writhing people. He exacerbates the awkwardness by doing a bizarre dance routine with his walking stick.
The choreography, by the way, is the work of Bruno Tonioli, who is probably best known to American television audiences as one of the judges on Dancing With the Stars, but who forever holds a special place in my heart for his role as the sexy pantsless doorman whom Elton tips in glitter in the Russell Mulcahy-directed “I’m Still Standing” video.
Man. “I’m Still Standing.” Now that’s a video.
Nick plays with a crystal bluebird for a while, then loiters sexily in a hallway. He passes a crystal to a red-haired woman, who then joins two other women at a table for a game of dice.
Lit candelabra in hand, Nick slinks along a wall embedded with stone faces. Between the candelabra and the billowing curtains in the background, he’s just a flowing white nightgown away from becoming the heroine of a creepy Gothic novel. In the Arcadia videos, when he doesn’t have a gaggle of other Durans around to dilute him, Nick’s dazzling, glorious oddness comes out front and center.
Simon glowers in front of some runes. Due to my Nickcentric worldview, I seem to be giving Simon the short end of the stick here, which is a shame—he looks fantastic, he sounds great, and he’s showing lots of personality and charisma. It’s just… great merciful Zeus, just look at Nick in this video. Much as with “The Flame” and “Goodbye is Forever,” he’s operating on his own astral plane of bizarre awesomeness.
Because things haven’t been quite strange enough thus far… Four shirtless, muscular men with horse heads rise up from smoke-billowing trapdoors. While the shadow of one of the man-horse hybrids looms large on the wall behind him, Nick plays toreador with a short-skirted partygoer.
On the Duran Duran website, Simon and Nick point out that this man-horse business is a reference to a scene in Cocteau’s Testament of Orpheus. Totally true. 100% accurate. Still, this is tickling some memory cells. Half-naked muscular men wearing horse heads, cavorting with attractive women in a sexualized manner… Haven’t we seen this someplace before in a Duran-related context?
Ah, yes. There we go. The “Girls on Film” video. Once is a Cocteau tribute; twice is a fetish. Okay, boys, time to ‘fess up. Whose personal kink is this? Simon? Nick? This is yours, Nick, right?
(Unsubstantiated “Election Day” rumor #2: Word has it that one of the horse-man hybrids is played by burly comedic actor Patrick Warburton, Paddy on Seinfeld and the star of the live-action Tick series. Once again, I can find no reputable source to confirm this — hell, I didn’t even find this on Wikipedia; this came straight from the mouths of YouTube commenters — but it’s so delightfully random that I really hope it’s true.)
There’s still more of this video to get through, but since it mostly consists of close to three minutes of Simon and Nick bopping and gyrating in a stilted, robotic manner, I’m going to wrap this up quickly and end it here.
It’s just kinder that way.