Duranalysis: A View to a Kill

Back in 1985, when I was young and the world was dazzling and new, I thought Duran Duran’s video for their hit single “A View to a Kill,” the theme song for the James Bond film of the same name, was really, really cool.

As it turns out, I was mistaken.

The video was directed by Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, who were also responsible for the boys’ extra-sleazy 1981 “Girls on Film” video (and who, performing as the pop duo Godley & Creme, had their own big hit in 1985 with “Cry”—you remember, “You don’t know how to ease my pain…” In the realm of weird Duran Duran-related music trivia, this is right up there with Nick Rhodes producing Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy”). The “View to a Kill” video features the Duran Duran boys as a quintet of gorgeous, glamorous spies who swarm around the Eiffel Tower and try to kill each other. Conceptually, this is a goldmine. The execution, however, is… problematic.

I should be clear: It’s not a disaster. In fact, there’s some pretty great stuff here. Overall, though, it’s a little smug, and it isn’t quite clever enough to support the smugness. The video is interspersed with scenes from the film—specifically, the sequence where Roger Moore’s Bond and Grace Jones chase each other all over the Eiffel Tower—cobbled together to make it look as though the Duran Duran boys are interacting with the Bond characters. Fun concept, but it doesn’t quite mesh.

Compounding the problem: The band was fractured at the time, reuniting briefly to make this video after splitting into two distinct camps earlier in the year. John and Andy had broken off to join the supergroup The Power Station, while Nick, Simon, and Roger formed their own project, Arcadia. Due to various intra-Duran conflicts, relationships within the band were strained, and as a result, each Duran filmed his scenes individually. In the entire video, no two Durans will directly interact with each other.

The video opens on a catering van (“Chez Tayloire,” heh) parked at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Roger, who is sitting in the driver’s seat, teleports himself into the back of the van.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Chez Tayloire

Yeah, Roger can teleport. Just shrug it off and move on. We’ve got a lot of material to cover, and if I stop down to scrutinize every last example of nitwittery, we’ll be here all day. Anyway, he’s got a cool super-spy control room set up in his van, featuring lots of big, clunky artifacts of Eighties tech.

Aw, no! What have they done to our fresh-faced, adorable Roger? Sure, it’s just the unflattering lighting, but he looks haggard and unwell. Not long after this video came out, Roger quit Duran Duran and went into semi-reclusion until he was coaxed back into the spotlight some fifteen years later; I’m not suggesting that seeing how ghastly he looks here drove him into hiding, but it surely couldn’t have helped his mental state.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Roger Taylor

Roger sends a camcorder sailing out of a hatch on the roof of his van. It flies up the side of the Eiffel Tower and hovers in the air, monitoring the action on the upper decks. I will not be discussing the special effects in any detail. They haven’t stood the test of time; I’ll just leave it at that and move right along.

View To a Kill Duran Duran camera eiffel tower

Simon leans against the wall on one of the observation decks and listens to his Walkman. With his striped shirt, white trench coat (collar popped), and beret (tilted at just the right jaunty angle), he looks like a million francs, the world-famous pop star disguised as a secret agent disguised as an everyday French tourist. All he needs to complete the image is a glass of red wine and a pack of Gitanes.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Simon Le Bon

John saunters around the deck, trying to look casual and doing a terrible job of blending in with the other tourists. John is really, really beautiful. Has anyone ever noticed this before?

View To a Kill Duran Duran John Taylor

In strolls Andy, who is sporting dark glasses, a white cane, and a monstrous mane of gigantic, snarled, ratty hair. I’d say the hair was just to lend credence to his role as a spy disguised as a blind accordion player, but I’ve seen the video for “The Reflex.” Hair aside, I don’t want to bag on Andy (I say blithely, having just bagged on Andy), because he’s kind of awesome and hilarious here. When he has something concrete to do in a video, instead of just being The Guy Hanging Out in the Scaffolding (“Union of the Snake”) or The Guy Making Awkward Small Talk With Nick (“Hungry Like the Wolf”), he can steal scenes away from his glamorous show-pony bandmates.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Andy Taylor

Speaking of glamorous show ponies… Andy throws a covert glance over at fashion photographer/spy Nick, who is snapping pictures of a gorgeous woman, played by model Gail Elliott, a close friend of Yasmin Le Bon. At this point, we only get a tantalizing glimpse of Nick’s hair (spiky, streaky) and makeup (smoky), but it all looks very, very promising.

View To a Kill Duran Duran 8 Nick Rhodes Gail Elliot

John skulks around the observation deck and watches through a telescope as Roger Moore and Grace Jones get into a big shootout on the upper deck. Gunshots ring out, but the tourists thronging about the tower don’t seem to notice, which is exactly what I mean about the film footage not meshing well with the video footage.

From his super awesome control room, Roger sends up three more cameras.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Roger Taylor

Simons whips out his Walkman. Inside, instead of a cassette, there’s a little control panel with the word “HELICOPTER” flashing at the top. Simon pushes a button, and we see footage from the movie of a helicopter crashing and exploding in an arctic area. So Simon’s just loitering around the Eiffel Tower, blowing up stuff halfway across the world. Simon is a menace to polite society.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Walkman

Roger picks up his enormous phone and mutters something in a foreign language to Simon, who receives the message over his Walkman headphones.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Roger on phone

Roger, honey, please take a hot bath and crawl into a warm, soft bed. You’re scaring me.

Oh, wow. We finally get our first up-close look at lovely Nick, who is giving directions to his model while not-so-secretly snapping photos of Grace Jones and Roger Moore. This was worth the wait. A 1985 People magazine article on the boys describes Nick’s makeup job in this video thusly: “plum blush, black eye pencil and liner by Clinique and coral lipstick by Christian Dior.” Details are important.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Nick Rhodes photographer

Simon whips out his Walkman again and uses it to blow up a blimp that’s floating over the Golden Gate Bridge, and really, I still don’t have any idea why he has to do this from the Eiffel Tower.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Simon Le Bon Beret

From his control room, Roger gets on the phone and barks orders to Nick, who receives them through an earpiece. Much as this video makes me wince in parts, I dig the idea of shy, enigmatic Roger turning out to be the shadowy behind-the-scenes mastermind of Duran Duran.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Nick Rhodes spy

(I recently browsed through some reviews of Steve Malins’s unauthorized biography of Duran Duran over on Amazon—one reviewer complains that the book contains “…too many weird descriptions of Nick Rhodes as some kind of alabaster-skinned alien.” While at first this seems like a very valid and reasonable criticism, after watching this video, I’m not sure one can ever make the point too many times about Nick looking like an alabaster-skinned alien. A very pretty alabaster-skinned alien.)

Nick then starts secretly photographing John. Presumably Nick is following Roger’s orders, but really, if I spotted someone who looked like John Taylor and I had a camera handy, I’d probably start snapping away, too. I gravitate toward pretty things.

John inserts coins into the slot at the base of the telescope. A gun barrel slides out. He swivels it around and starts firing up toward the top of the tower, where Roger Moore and Grace Jones are still battling it out. Oh, dear. Whose brilliant idea was it to arm Duran Duran? This will end in tears. John manages to shoot down one of Roger’s cameras, which he seems far too pleased about.

View To a Kill Duran Duran John Taylor shooting

Let’s sort out some loyalties: Simon and Nick are taking orders from Roger, and John, if he’s aiming at Roger’s cameras, is definitely their foe. And Andy? Why, surely he’s nothing more than a harmless blind accordion player! Andy looks around in apparent confusion as tourists scurry in panic at the gunfire.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Andy Taylor

Nick snaps a photo of Andy. Bad move. Andy, who is very plainly Not Really Blind, spots Nick and goes for the kill.

He plays his accordion, which turns out to be an Accordion of Death. When Andy presses a special red button, Nick screams in pain. His camera glows ominously, then explodes in a burst of flame, killing him.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Nick Rhodes camera explodes

Oh, Andy.

Sheesh. Nick might’ve been an enemy spy, but after all, he was just taking a few harmless snapshots. It’s not like he was blowing up helicopters and blimps, Simon. Murdering Nick—tiny, pretty, glittery Nick—is beyond the pale. It’s like stepping on Tinker Bell (here, my literate and high-minded sister would be quick to point out that, in the original J.M. Barrie books, Tinker Bell was a vicious and vindictive little sprite. I maintain the analogy still holds. Despite his dainty appearance, Nick has always seemed like the Duran most likely to wreak terrible vengeance against anyone who crosses him).

I feel like I just watched a Duran Duran snuff film. Oh, sure, there’s been a Duran body count in other videos—all the boys except for Roger meet a bad fate at the hands of zombies in “Night Boat,” and it’s up in the air whether Andy and Nick make it out of the exploding underground fortress alive in “Union of the Snake”—but this video marks the sole foray into the disturbing realm of Duran-on-Duran violence.

And Andy has never looked happier.

View To a Kill Duran Duran Andy Triumphant

Andy packs up his accordion and triumphantly saunters off over the final chords of the song. There’s still twenty seconds left in the video, but do yourself a favor and stop watching right here. It’s just better that way.

…Still watching? Okay, let’s get this over with: A beautiful blonde strolls up to Simon and tugs on his arm. “Excuse me. Aren’t you..?” she asks. With an unsettling mixture of smug and goofy, Simon responds, “Bon. Simon Le Bon.”

It gets worse. Simon glances down at his Walkman and sees that it’s now flashing “EIFFEL TOWER.” He grows alarmed (in a goofy way), but there’s no need for panic—on a rack at a souvenir kiosk at the base of the Tower, a postcard of the Eiffel Tower explodes. Fade out.

I’ve had many years now to mull over why that ending lands with such a thud, and I think it boils down to those traces of smugness. One of the reasons Duran Duran videos have held up so extraordinarily well throughout the decades is that the Durans take them seriously. Even in the “Rio” video, which is a giddy celebration of physical comedy, the Durans all throw themselves into their roles. They commit, damn it. The commitment wobbles here, which is understandable—at this dangerously high and precarious point of their careers, they’re exhausted, they’re overexposed, they’re squabbling with each other, they’re desperate to find some purpose to their lives apart from Being a Duran—and as a result, they don’t stick the landing. Simon smirks, the Eiffel Tower burns, and the original five members of Duran Duran won’t film another video together for almost twenty years.