Duran Duran’s rendition of “Femme Fatale,” originally recorded in 1966 by the Velvet Underground, appears on their 1993 self-titled album, which, in an attempt to avoid confusion with their 1981 self-titled debut album, is more commonly known as The Wedding Album. The black-and-white video was shot in New York by photographer/filmmaker Ellen von Unwerth, who would later direct the band in “Electric Barbarella.” Of the two, “Electric Barbarella” is the more interesting video; it’s cheerful and tawdry and contains some downright sordid and unsettling undertones, whereas “Femme Fatale” is languid and lazily glamorous in a noncommittal way, with the dreamy, gauzy gloss of a commercial for a high-end perfume. I like high-end perfume commercials, though, so let’s take a look at “Femme Fatale.”
The video opens with the Durans—it’s 1993, so the lineup is Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, and Warren Cuccurullo—driving around New York in a town car, with John behind the wheel. They’re cruising slowly through dark and nearly deserted streets, searching for action. I can relate; I used to do this with my friends most Friday nights while I was in high school, because… well, what else was there to do on a Friday night in Spokane in the eighties? We’d drive around aimlessly for hours before ending up at McDonald’s or Denny’s.
This is Duran Duran, though, so—spoiler alert—they do not end up at Denny’s.
They’re all dressed to kill. Simon, newly shorn and peroxided and in touch with his inner sexy android, is obviously en route to a Roy Batty lookalike competition.
Meanwhile, a pixie-cropped Nick wraps himself in frilly scarves and slouches glamorously into a corner of the backseat while testing out his finest Greta Garbo impression.
They spot a beautiful young woman, played by model Nina Brosh, who glides across their path. She’s dressed in a long ball gown, her tangled blonde hair piled high on her head, looking like an eighteenth-century courtesan.
Discuss: Who looks better in eighteenth-century courtesan drag: Nina in this video, or Nick in the “Out of My Mind” video?:
Nina’s gorgeous, but for sheer head-to-toe fabulousness, I have to give the nod to Nick.
Still in the car, the Durans slowly trail Nina as she wanders through dark streets and alleyways. They’re aggressively stalking her, which would be troubling and a little terrifying if they weren’t, y’know, Duran Duran. She leads them through the Meatpacking District and disappears, whereupon they hit the pavement to look for her. While searching for Nina, Nick encounters a statuesque and lovely trans woman, who towers above him.
I’m only speculating that they’re in the Meatpacking District, actually. New York circa 1993 looks very different from New York circa 2018, and just going by all the abandoned buildings and shadowy warehouses the Durans cruise past, I’d originally figured they were in one of the dustier corners of Brooklyn. However, Nina passes beneath a sign for Rio Mar, a then-trendy Spanish restaurant on West 12th, which provides some valuable location clues. From a 1990 New York Magazine review of Rio Mar: Inside, old locals at the bar are likely to be singing along to salsa music from the jukebox (don’t worry, club kids, there’s a healthy smattering of Madonna, too). Okay, good to know!
The Durans follow Nina into a building, whereupon they find themselves at a club filled with partygoers in sequined masks, feather boas, and satin top hats. Mostly what I gleaned from this video is that Manhattan club kids in the early nineties had all watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show a few too many times.
Also, everyone in this club is super high.
A woman does this with her tongue as soon as the Durans walk in. While lacking a certain subtlety, this is a fairly natural and relatable response to the sight of a Duran in the flesh.
Once inside, the Durans divide and conquer. Simon dances with an attractive woman, Warren mingles with the crowd, and a pair of slinky ladies who were canoodling together on a sofa suddenly stop macking on each other and make a beeline for John.
As the women paw at him, John’s expression of baffled alarm and weary resignation—something along the lines of “Why is this happening to me again?”—is unbearably poignant.
This video improves if you assume the Durans have wandered into a den of undead hipster vampires with an insatiable thirst for sweet, sweet Duran blood.
A slithery woman in a wee little beribboned tophat starts gnawing on Warren’s neck. Warren digs it.
I mean, it’s not like my “this party is actually a seething hotbed of horny vampires” theory is that far out of the realm of possibility.
Nobody seems interested in gnawing on Nick, the fools, so he sits down at a piano and starts to play. He’s interrupted by a feather boa-draped woman, who decides to dance on the keys. Nick seems to take this with gentle good humor, but he’d be well within his rights to be monstrously irritated by this kind of behavior. In many ways, this is a terribly obnoxious party. Might’ve had a better time at Denny’s, lads.
After abandoning the piano, Nick spends the rest of the party draping himself across furniture, patiently waiting for someone to bite his neck.
“Excuse me, ladies, would one or both of you have any interest in turning me into a vampire? …No? Okay, thank you anyway.”
Nobody bites Simon, either. He lurks around the party, still doing his Sexy Killer Android thing while occasionally flashing Nina sultry glances from across the room.
The lady with the feather boa, who is now lying on top of the piano, brandishes her tush at Simon as he passes. The mating rituals in this video are not especially understated.
Eventually, Simon makes a meaningful connection with Nina. She rubs a rose in some loose powder—fairy dust or sugar or cocaine or whatever—and blows it in his face.
She then twirls around in a circle and flings rose petals everywhere, which flutter down over the Durans as they lie on the floor, which is probably all sticky from various bodily fluids and spilled chocolate cherry martinis, because it’s that kind of club. I can only hope the Durans will rise up from the floor the following night, having turned into wraithlike and glamorous undead creatures of the night.
We’ve never had a Duran Duran vampire video, have we? We had the Great Duran Duran Zombie Massacre in “Night Boat,” of course, but no vampires. This seems like a grievous oversight; I’d love to see the Durans slithering around in red velvet robes, hissing at sunlight and menacing virgins and sipping blood out of cut-crystal champagne flutes. Alas, this is not that video. As with Duran Duran’s other videos from tracks off of the Wedding Album—”Come Undone” and “Ordinary World”—there’s not much to “Femme Fatale,” apart from a lot of well-shot footage of the Durans looking impossibly beautiful and stylish. We’ll have to settle for that.