They tried to break us; looks like they’ll try again…
Let’s Duranalyze some classic Duran Duran music videos, shall we? I see no benefit to going chronologically, so first up is 1984’s “The Wild Boys,” because it’s both my favorite Duran Duran song and my favorite Duran Duran video. Before I launch into the analysis, though, for the benefit of any neophytes, here’s a quick rundown of the beautiful boys of Duran Duran:
Simon Le Bon
Vocalist, bon vivant, rapscallion, flirt. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Simon for penning some of most of the evocative/ confounding /nonsensical /awesome pop lyrics of all time; honestly, I don’t know how many e-mails I’ve fired off using the subject header, “Your telephone’s been ringing while you’re dancing in the rain.” Ditto for, “Cherry ice-cream smile, I suppose it’s very nice.”
Bass guitarist, all-purpose heartthrob. Tall, willowy and lovely, John is the most classically handsome of the bunch (now there’s a statement designed to spark conflict—yes, boys, you’re all very pretty; I’m just giving a slight edge to John and his stellar bone structure). If we gauge the popularity of the individual band members strictly based on the total number of glossy centerfolds in my stack of era-appropriate BOP and Tiger Beat magazines (which I’m pretty sure is the most accurate and scientific way of doing this), John wins by a healthy margin. Can’t be certain, but there might be some odd correlation between John’s staggering beauty and his wild popularity. Seems like a genuinely cool, sweet-natured guy.
Keyboardist, enfant terrible, magical pixie. Ah, Nick. I love all the Durans; I adore Nick. The youngest and strangest Duran, Nick is a baby ocelot set loose in a basket of kittens. The mere sight of Nick—lovely, fussy Nick, Nick of the heavy makeup and the ever-changing hairstyles—always fills me with giddy delight. Here’s an awkward and gloriously vapid bit from Nick’s appearance on a 1985 episode of MTV’s Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes. If someone distilled all the wonderful bizarreness of the pop-culture scene of the first half of the eighties into a single moment, the result might be this clip, in which an enchanted Warhol, Nick’s longtime mentor and friend, gazes upon the splendor of Nick and murmurs wistfully, “You look so beautiful in this light.”
Guitarist, troublemaker. A rock-and-roll man who somehow ended up in a glamorous pop band, Andy has quit the group more than once and is the only one of the original lineup not presently affiliated with Duran Duran in any way. In 2008, Andy published a memoir, Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, in which he takes pains not to burn too many bridges (by Andy’s account, apart from a little wholly unsurprising recreational drug usage, the boys were a suspiciously well-behaved bunch during their heyday), yet which still manages to be pretty darn entertaining. In his book, Andy stops just short of spelling out how much he despises Nick’s enchanting magical-pixie guts, but the message comes across nonetheless.
Drummer, enigma. Roger has a well-documented aversion to fame and attention (somewhere out there, Simon and Nick are blinking adorably in confusion at this concept). Like Andy, Roger has quit the band a time or two in the past, though he’s currently an active member. Seems like a nice chap. Smoking hot, too.
The video for “The Wild Boys” came out in 1984 and was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who, in addition to helming the (awesome) first Highlander film, also directed a slew of Duran Duran’s iconic early videos—“Rio,” “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Save a Prayer,” and so forth. Mulcahy optioned the rights to William S. Burroughs’s scattered, feverish, sleazy dystopian novel, The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead, with an eye toward making it into a movie, then asked the band to write an appropriate song for it. The lavish, expensive, no-holds-barred video was meant to serve as something of a teaser for the prospective movie, which never came to fruition. But the video endures, and it’s a doozy, in the best possible way.
Opening scenes: Flame-spitting uniformed schoolboys destroy an abandoned schoolroom, and a creepy animatronic head (which also spits flames–we’re in for a surprising amount of flame-spitting here) watches a video of Duran Duran performing.
(Digression, which I’ve added a decade or so after originally writing this piece: I have more–much more–to say about that animatronic head in my Duranalysis of the band’s gonzo sci-fi themed concert film Arena: An Absurd Notion, including some unproven but pretty well-substantiated theories as to which actor’s very famous noggin served as the basis for it; you should check out what I have to say about it there, but in short: yes, absolutely, 100% no fooling, it was Patrick Stewart.)
Meanwhile, in what looks like a vast, run-down underground fortress (there’s a pyramid, and scaffolding, and cliffs, and platforms, and a freaking lagoon… it’s all kind of epic and overwhelming), a bunch of loincloth-and-feather-clad men dance around in an ecstatic frenzy. Lots of high kicks and balletic leaps. Which, given the loincloths, is certainly attention-getting.
Also? Some of the men appear to be mutants. We’re in post-apocalyptic territory here. Just go with it.
And here’s Simon: He’s clad in leather and is strapped to a gigantic rickety spinning windmill. On every rotation, poor Simon’s head gets dunked in the lagoon. Trooper that he is, he keeps on singing all the while. Not just singing—he’s full-on rocking out, gesticulating wildly with his arms and throwing his head back and wriggling his hips. Simon is not a man to do things in half-measures. He commits.
Nick, meanwhile, is trapped in a cage in the middle of the chamber. Heh. Nick. For this video, all the boys are wearing distressed leather outfits, Mad Max-style, to look appropriately battered and war-torn and post-apocalyptic. Nick’s outfit, however, is the only one that’s covered with shiny jewels. Why, yes, there is behind-the-scenes footage of wee dainty Nick, happy as a strangely glamorous clam while looking even more Muppetty than usual, taking the initiative to glue sparkly baubles all over his costume, which he had deemed insufficiently fabulous. Nick, you’re a living treasure.
(Digression: Thus far, I’ve been proceeding under the assumption that anyone interested enough to read this already possesses at least a working knowledge of Duran Duran. Hence, I haven’t bothered dredging up the usual factoids—John Taylor and Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor are totally unrelated to each other! The band was formed by childhood friends Nick and John in Birmingham, UK, in 1978! They took the band name from a character in Roger Vadim’s 1968 delightfully tawdry sci-fi film Barbarella!—because I figure it’s old news. But just in case anyone is diving in here without knowing the vast and storied history of Duran Duran… Nick is straight. He was married to a model, Julie Anne Rhodes, née Friedman, at the time this video came out, and has been romantically linked to a series of extremely beautiful women over the years. I point this out only because: a) this is maybe not immediately apparent upon one’s first visit to Planet Nick, and b) Nick’s gender-fluid appearance touches on some fascinating and optimistic things about the growing uselessness of gender boundaries: So we have this androgynous sylph who’s attracted to women but who gravitates toward some traits that have been arbitrarily classified as feminine—the hair, the makeup, the love of fashion and sparkly things—and who’s comfortable enough in his own skin to plant himself squarely on the gender line in a large-scale public manner. Obviously he’s not the first to try this—just look at Bowie, or a slew of other artists like Boy George, and hell, all five Durans wore their share of makeup during this time—but it’s hard to think of another public figure who took it to Nick’s level in the early 1980s. Short version of all that: I think Nick is cool as hell. Also? Total chick magnet.)
Enough with the digression. Back to the Durans in peril!
So Nick’s stuck in a cage, where he’s fretting sexily while fiddling around with a pile of electronic equipment. One of the feral mutant lads scuttles up to him and secretly passes what looks like a metal disk to him through the bars.
Piecing together these little scraps of information and making some crazy deductive leaps, I’m guessing the mutant is an ally who’s helping Nick build something to facilitate an escape. I can’t really speak to Nick’s electrical know-how or mechanical prowess, but my gut feeling is that if you’re being held captive in an underground fortress by a feral band of mutants and your best chance of escape hinges upon Nick Rhodes spot-welding a circuit board… you’re screwed.
I am, of course, extrapolating wildly from the miniscule snippets of information we’re given and drawing conclusions that may be totally off-base. It’s also entirely possible the mutant dude just scuttled up and handed the pretty caged boy a cookie.
Let’s check in with John: He’s strapped down across the hood of a car, forced to stare up at a television monitor, which is broadcasting images of… his own beautiful face. The inhuman fiends! Such torment! John writhes and writhes against his bonds. Writhe, John! Writhe!
Yeah. This is a really good video.
It’s pretty much unapologetic fetish fuel, start to finish: You’ve got these loincloth-wearing feral mutants who have bound or caged our boys and are keeping them around for some unspecified but no doubt unsavory purpose. Given the source material, sex is an entirely reasonable guess (raise your hand if you’ve ever hacked your way through any Burroughs novel, The Wild Boys very much included. I’m pretty much spot on, yes?).
Or, getting my mind out of the gutter, maybe the feral mutants just needed a house band.
More high kicks in loincloths! One of the mutants catapults himself over Nick’s cage, which causes Nick to fret sexily some more. There’s also some guy flying around the chamber on makeshift wings. Naturally.
Simon wriggles his way free of the windmill and splashes around in the lagoon, which turns out to be populated by sharp-toothed mutant albino fish, one of which tries to chew his face off. Simon is not daunted. It takes more than toothy mutant fish to keep Simon Le Bon down.
At this point, the video remembers there are a couple of other band members whom we haven’t yet seen: Andy is bound high up on the scaffolding, clutching his guitar, kicking at some of the mutants who keep grabbing at his legs.
For his part, Roger is floating up near the ceiling of the chamber in his own little hot-air balloon, and this is the point where I realize it’s a sucker’s game to try to impose too much logical structure onto a Duran Duran video. It’s like trying to explain a dream to someone, where you end up having to make up details to bridge gaps in logic to have it make any kind of coherent sense. Roger’s dangling from a hot-air balloon. Just… go with it. Let the video wash over you. Just stare at those pretty English boys in their cute leather outfits and stop trying to beat it into a traditional narrative framework.
Simon makes his way to land, then reaches a hand up to an unseen figure. Andy? Maybe Roger?
And then we rather abruptly cut to a ticker tape parade, in which all of Duran Duran drive victoriously through the now-empty chamber, having apparently escaped from their bonds and vanquished the loincloth-garbed mutants in some part of the video we didn’t get to see.
I get it: It’s a music video, not a movie, and the focus is on presenting a series of evocative images, not having everything make perfect sense. Still, I can’t help feeling like we’ve been cheated out of some awesome epic battle scenes. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t give for just a few precious seconds of seeing Nick locked in mortal combat with a feral mutant.
There’s an extended version of this video, which includes another three minutes of footage, but… look, I’ve already written over two thousand words on a four-minute video, which I think is plenty, so I’m going to gloss over the rest. The extended version factors into Arena (An Absurd Notion), Duran Duran’s 1984 concert video, in which concert footage is bridged together with a framing device involving the band’s namesake, Milo O’Shea’s Durand Durand character from Barbarella. The long version features more high-kicking dance numbers, some bare breasts (there’s a Wild Girl or two amongst the feral boys in this version), some special effects that have not withstood the stampede of technical progress, and more footage of Simon strapped to the damn windmill. Simon is an awesome force of nature, and he’s got charisma and energy seeping out of his pores; he takes the lead in pretty much every single video, as he absolutely should, but here’s something no one has ever needed to say about a Duran Duran video: “I think that needed more Simon.”
Anyway. It’s a fabulous project, start to finish, chock full of fantastic images. As a lifelong sucker for any well-depicted dystopian hellscape, I love the idea of stranding an improbable party in a nightmarish post-apocalyptic wasteland and seeing how well they’d fare. In the case of Duran Duran? They fared pretty damn well.