Duranalysis: The Chauffeur

I’ll only watch you leave me further behind…

While “The Chauffeur,” a track off of Duran Duran’s Rio album, was never released as a single, it’s beloved by critics, die-hard Duranies, and dabblers alike, thanks to its sleekly melancholy tune and its enigmatic lyrics, which were reportedly written by Simon Le Bon while on a kibbutz in Israel in his pre-Duran days. “The Chauffeur” is Simon at his most enigmatic and Lewis Carrollesque; surely “Out on the tar plains, the glides are moving/All looking for a new place to drive” is 1982’s response to “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” The video was directed by Birmingham artist/filmmaker Ian Emes, who’d already achieved a degree of fame for his animated videos for Pink Floyd. Much as “The Chauffeur” is a beloved song, the video is equally beloved, for a few obvious reasons:

  1. It’s beautifully shot
  2. It’s stylish as hell
  3. It has boobs in it.

I’m not talking about the in-your-face porn-film boobs of the uncut version of ”Girls on Film.”  Shot in black-and-white and dripping with luxurious style, like a Helmut Newton photo shoot come to life, “The Chauffeur” is filled with tasteful, sophisticated, art-film boobs. High-end perfume ad boobs. Vogue Paris editorial-spread boobs. Classy stuff, in other words. Largely as a result of this video, “The Chauffeur” has become inextricably linked with high fashion over the years, which is probably why it’s a perennial pick to play as background music at runway shows.

As the video opens, a beautiful dark-haired woman rides in the backseat of an elegant chauffeur-driven car gliding through the streets of London. Because someone out there will want to know, I can tell you that, according to Wikipedia, the car is an Austin Princess limousine.

Austin Princess limousine

The woman is (half-)dressed in jewels and what looks like expensive lingerie: corset, stockings, garter belt, elbow-length satin gloves, heels. Caught up in a fit of onanistic passion, she fondles her own stocking-clad thighs.

The Chauffeur video fondles thighs

From the driver’s seat, the chauffeur impassively watches her in his rearview mirror. Despite bearing a passing resemblance to a present-day Roger Taylor, the chauffeur is emphatically not a Duran. There are no Durans anywhere to be seen, in fact, which is why, in seven years of writing these Duranalyses, I’m only just now getting around to addressing this video. It’s a well-made video; I like it and appreciate it. Would I like it more if it featured a bevy of beautiful Durans to balance out the bevy of beautiful lingerie-clad women? Yes. Yes, I would.

The Chauffeur

Still writhing around in barely-contained passion, the dark-haired woman gives her expensively corseted boobs a quick grope.

The Chauffeur breast grope

This is all intercut with footage of another beautiful and elegant young woman, this one blonde, waking up in a luxurious hotel suite. I have many pressing questions about her choice of sleepwear: mesh bodysuit, wide leather belt, nylons. At least she took off her teetering stiletto pumps, which are resting beside the bed, before curling up for a nap. Lost in her own barely-contained passion, she gropes her boobs a bit, then runs her hands along her thighs.

The Chauffeur woman in hotel room

I can speak only for myself, but the women in this video seem to grope themselves in unrestrained passion more frequently than my personal experience would indicate is typical.

“The Chauffeur,” a story about a pair of grimly purposeful clandestine lovers locked in a secret passion, with the chauffeur serving as a mute third party to their ménage à trois, takes itself very seriously. In 2011, an older, wiser, more relaxed version of Duran Duran would pay playful homage to this video with “Girl Panic!”, which kicks off with a beautiful woman—Naomi Campbell, playing a gender-switched Simon Le Bon—dressed in couture bondage gear waking up in a luxurious hotel suite. “Girl Panic!” also features a chauffeur played by John Taylor, who is driving around a beautiful dark-haired woman played by Cindy Crawford, who is playing a gender-switched John Taylor, because “Girl Panic!” is a cavalcade of glamorous and glorious whimsy. Point being, if “The Chauffeur” had just had the foresight to recruit John Taylor to play the role of the chauffeur, it would’ve established the groundwork for a gag that would’ve reaped amazing dividends thirty years down the road.

John Taylor as the chauffeur in Girl Panic

Seriously, “The Chauffeur” should’ve found a way to squeeze a Duran or two into it. I miss the boys.

In the back of the limousine, an array of spherical objects—beads? ball bearings? gumballs?—roll around the floor. Even though the dark-haired woman is the only passenger, there are two already-poured cut-crystal coupe glasses filled with champagne on a low table beside her. Either she’s impatient for someone to join her, or she’s a two-fisted champagne drinker. There are no wrong answers here.

The Chauffeur limousine backseat

The blonde woman in the hotel suite changes out of her impractical sleepwear into impractical lingerie—bra, panties, stockings, lace gloves, garter belt—and poses for too long while staring glumly at her reflection in the mirror.

The Chauffeur woman poses in mirror

You look fine, lady. Let’s keep this video moving along, shall we?

She strides through London streets, clutching a Burberry trench coat tightly over her lingerie. She crosses a bridge, passing a couple lurking in the shadows, whereupon she gets accosted and briefly groped by a woman in sunglasses and a trench coat. This video is exposing me to a heretofore unexplored stereotype about Londoners: Wander around alone at night, and you run the risk of getting groped by stylish women in trench coats.

The Chauffeur woman gets groped

The limousine parks in an empty parking structure. As the blonde woman approaches the car, the dark-haired woman slides out of the back seat and walks toward her, both women vibrating with frissons of barely-confined erotic passion. The brunette silently urges the blonde woman to remove her coat, whereupon they begin… dancing? Sort of? Both women are grim and utterly lethargic, so in lieu of actual dancing, they end up sort of shifting their hips and shoulders around a bit while playing a sexy version of pattycake with each other.

The Chauffeur dancing in parking garage

The chauffeur gets out of the limousine, whereupon he transforms into a platinum bombshell, played by writer/dancer/Blitz Kid Perri Lister.

Perri Lister in The Chauffeur

The chauffeur whips off her coat and cap. Now topless, but still wearing her leather driving gloves and a high-waisted leather cummerbund, she begins doing a bizarre, contortion-heavy dance. Lister is a trained dancer, so she pulls it off; while strange, her dance is gobs more interesting than the listless gyrations of the two solemn ladies in lingerie. A couple of years after this video, Lister will also appear in the extended version of the “Wild Boys” video as the bare-chested Wild Girl amongst the bunch of feral mutants; while Lister is not the only actress to pop up in two separate Duran Duran videos—she shares that honor with Vanya Seager (“Lonely in Your Nightmare” and “Save a Prayer”) and Tess Daly (“Serious” and “Violence of Summer”) and probably others I’m forgetting—she’s surely the only one to flash her breasts in two separate Duran Duran videos.

Peri Lister dances in The Chauffeur video

Lister’s dance is an homage to an iconic scene in the stylish-but-sordid 1974 sadomasochistic psychodrama The Night Porter, in which a topless Charlotte Rampling dances for Nazis while wearing a man’s trousers, suspenders, and a cap from an SS uniform, which bears an unsettling resemblance to a chauffeur’s cap.

Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter

The dancing in the parking garage goes on for a ridiculously long time, because if there’s anything we’ve learned from “New Moon on Monday” and Arcadia’s “Election Day,” it’s this: Whenever Duran Duran can’t figure out how to gracefully wrap up a video, they end it by throwing a long and weird dance party. We all have much to learn from them.