Everybody, everywhere, feel it in the air…
Duran Duran just released the video for “Pressure Off”, the first single off their new Paper Gods album, and it’s a good one; since first viewing it, my fingers have been itching to Duranalyze the crap out of it. “Pressure Off” was directed by the band’s frequent collaborator, visual artist/director Nick Egan, who, in addition to creating the cover art for Duran Duran’s Wedding Album, also directed four of their earlier videos: “White Lines”, “Perfect Day”, “Ordinary World”, and “All You Need is Now.” Hey, those are all great songs! And those are all beautifully composed and visually compelling videos! However, while I have Duranalyzed a grand total of twenty-four videos to date, none of the aforementioned have made the cut. You know why? Because Egan doesn’t really do plots. His videos for the band, which mostly feature impeccably-shot performance footage mixed with cool visuals, don’t have storylines. Trust me, it’s much easier coming up with a thousand words or so about a video when there’s at least a loose narrative thread to follow.
“Pressure Off” has no storyline, either, but it’s so damn fun that I’m going to give this a whirl anyway. Here goes:
For some damn fool reason, I thought this would be a good idea.
My affection for the high-energy, unapologetic goofiness of The A-Team is no secret. And while I’ve arrived very late to the nonstop cocktail party that is The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I’ve quickly lost my heart to the show. So, I thought to myself, what could be more relevant to my interests than a very special Man From U.N.C.L.E.-themed A-Team episode? How could this possibly go wrong?
Okay, sure, even on paper, it’s not a perfect match. Mashing up The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (swanky, frothy, sexy) with The A-Team (gonzo, gleeful, idiotic) is like ordering a Kir Royale with a Pabst Blue Ribbon chaser, or ending a jazz recital with a string of fart jokes. Even so, with the right script, this could’ve worked. This could’ve been fun. Hell, it could’ve been cute.
Where are you now? ‘Cause I don’t want to meet you…
I briefly touched on this one a few years back in my Duranalysis of the band’s agreeably half-assed 1981 video for “Careless Memories”, but it’s worthy of in-depth scrutiny on its own. This is the delightfully bonkers anime-style video (we’re all calling it “Duranime” from here on out, yes?) that played on the screen behind Duran Duran while the band performed “Careless Memories” on the 2004 Astronaut tour.
“Do you know me? Of course you do. That’s because I’m famous!”
Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool is an educational video from 1984 in which Mr. T—bouncer turned fighter turned actor turned pop-culture icon—provides kids with a series of life lessons. It was directed by Jeff Margolis, best known as a prolific director of awards shows; over the years, Margolis has won an Emmy and two DGA Awards for directing the Academy Awards, which is a nifty fact to have on hand if you ever find yourself trying to make the case that Hollywood can be, at times, just a tad insular and self-congratulatory.
This is a fascinating cultural artifact. Despite being almost an hour long (and currently only available via muddy VHS copies that various kind souls have uploaded to YouTube), Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool is compulsively watchable, mostly due to the goofball charisma of its star. Mr. T expanded his fame by deftly exploiting the dichotomy between his outsized persona—his musclebound physique, his mohawk hairdo, his pounds of jewelry—and his sunny, softhearted nature; here, the latter serves him well.
Like a radio tune I swear I’ve heard before…
“Come Undone” is the second single off of the band’s 1993 self-titled album, which is known far and wide as the Wedding Album, because Duran Duran had already released a self-titled album back in 1981 and life is plenty confusing as it is, thank you very much. The video was directed by JulienTemple, who also directed the classic 1988 comedy Earth Girls Are Easy. It’s a very pretty video (just look at all those bright, colorful, exotic fish! Just look at all those bright, colorful, exotic Durans!), but I’m correct in assuming we’d all rather be watching Earth Girls Are Easy, right?
Fake television band alert! I’m a sucker for a good fake television band, whether we’re talking about The Monkees, or Jem and the Holograms, or today’s raison d’etre, Kidd Video.
A half-hour blend of live action and animation, Kidd Video aired for two seasons on Saturday mornings on NBC from 1984 to 1985. It was produced by Haim Saban for Saban Entertainment, who would later go on to create the Power Rangers mega-franchise. While Kidd Video never reached anything approaching Power Rangers-esque levels of enduring pop-culture impact—for starters, it’s never had a proper home entertainment release, most likely because securing the music rights would be prohibitively complex and expensive—it’s nonetheless remembered fondly by MTV-crazed kids from that era.
I came across this fascinating cultural artifact recently on YouTube: It’s an interview with Simon and Nick from October 1984 for a music news show called Kulture Shock, which apparently aired on Tyne Tees Television in North East England. There’s not much of an online record for Kulture Shock; after doing some hunting, I could only scrounge up a whopping total of four relevant search results. There’s this video, there’s a performance by Duran Duran of “Girls On Film” circa ’81 or ‘82, back when Andy had shock-white hair and everybody favored those blue-and-white striped shirts, there’s an interview with the members of UB40, and there’s a performance by UB40. That’s it. While there’s an obvious explanation for the lack of an electronic trail—not everybody held onto grainy VHS copies of local television programs for thirty years before uploading them to YouTube, more’s the pity—I prefer to think Kulture Shock catered to a very selective pop-culture niche and, indeed, only produced episodes that focused on either Duran Duran or UB40. Because that would be kind of awesome.
I first fell in love with the 1992 anime series Sailor Moon in 1996 when I was working at a soul-killing temp job and living for my nightly dose of the weirdly-dubbed episodes that were then newly airing on U.S. television. Last year saw the debut of a reboot, Sailor Moon Crystal; I watched enough of Crystal to realize it was a limp and charmless copy of the original (the characters are poorly defined, and worse, it’s not funny), which then sparked a renewed craving for the pure, uncut glory of old-school Sailor Moon.
Sailor Moon centers around Usagi Tsukino, an adorably scatterbrained eighth-grade girl who discovers she’s a reincarnated super-powered princess from the moon. She fights an unending slew of villains and demons and miscreants from all over the galaxy with the aid of her four fellow reincarnated Sailor Soldiers: brainy Ami (Sailor Mercury), temperamental Rei (Sailor Mars), brawny Makoto (Sailor Jupiter), and glamorous Minako (Sailor Venus). Chief among Usagi’s non-Soldier allies are a talking cat named Luna and her much-older reincarnated boyfriend, Mamoru Chiba, who has his own secret identity: he’s Tuxedo Mask, a cape-wearing masked dandy who hurls roses as projectile weapons. A beautiful example of giddy, silly escapism, Sailor Moon is gonzo and hilarious, as well as boundlessly charming and often poignant.
Just that lately I’ve been so damn lonely when I think of you…
At long last! More Duranalysis! My original plan was to start tackling the Notorious videos—“Skin Trade” and “Meet El Presidente” along with the title track—but… well, look, nothing really happens in any of those videos, which makes them highly resistant to any attempt at in-depth quality Duranalyzing (“And then Christy Turlington wanders around while looking really pretty some more…”). So I’m speeding ahead to “Do You Believe In Shame?” off of the Big Thing album.
The video for “Do You Believe in Shame?” was directed in 1989 by celebrated auteur Chen Kaige, who, four years later, would receive the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Farewell My Concubine. It’s a gorgeous, evocative, melancholy video—a suitable accompaniment to a gorgeous, melancholy song.
Let’s take a look at another fabulous episode of the classic mid-eighties G.I. Joe cartoon, shall we? Here we have “Skeletons in the Closet,” a thrilling saga of retribution, espionage, ghosts, ancient cults, mystical creatures, and weird yet heartfelt attempts at Scottish brogues.
During a failed Cobra operation, the Baroness catches Destro canoodling in the bushes with a sexy blonde Cobra underling. Because the Baroness is awesomeness personified, she outwardly shrugs off Destro’s chronic infidelity, preferring instead to quietly plot terrible, elaborate vengeance against him.