Tonight’s Lynch Night is piece from guest writer Christine Self. She is a long-time fan of Duran Duran who offered her time to give a blind review of the concert film. This is her first article for 25YL. Welcome her, and let us know what you think!
My Duran Duran fandom began at age 13 or so. It was 1983, and their album Rio had been out for about a year, providing MTV viewers in the US with sumptuous, movie-like videos featuring the handsome quintet at exotic locations, riding on yachts with gorgeous models, and wearing lots of linen, Panama hats, and chest-baring shirts. I was hooked. I had knock-down, drag-out arguments with classmates over Duran Duran vs. Journey. I collected records, tapes, buttons, and posters (I even had my own Panama hat). My sister and I debated about which band member was the cutest (no one used the term “hot” back then). She was solidly in Simon Le Bon’s camp, while I vacillated between John Taylor and Nick Rhodes. We convinced my mother to let us watch the Duran Duran video compilation, rented on VHS from a local grocery store, even though it contained the very racy video for “Girls on Film” (sorry, Mom, if you’re reading.)
For those who are not hardcore Duranies (as their rabid fans are called), here’s a short bio compiled from the Duran Duran timeline at www.duranduran.com:[i] The band was formed in the late 1970s by original members Nick Rhodes (synthesizer) and John Taylor (bass). By 1980, the classic lineup of Simon le Bon (vocals), John Taylor (bass), Nick Rhodes (synthesizer), Roger Taylor (drums), and Andy Taylor (guitar) was set (none of the Taylors are related). In 1981, Duran Duran released its single “Planet Earth,” which reached #12 on the UK charts. The same year, the band flew to New York and visited WLIR, a Long Island radio station that was famous for being the first to release UK artists in the United States (see the documentary New Wave: Dare to be Different on Showtime for an incredible take on WRIL’s influence and interview segments with Nick Rhodes), and began being played on the radio in the US. Duran Duran’s style of music has been called synth-pop, Brit-pop, New Wave, and New Romantic, and their catchy tunes and good looks rendered them perfect for the burgeoning MTV. In 1982, Duran Duran released Rio, which went platinum in the US. Later that year, Princess Diana declared Duran Duran to be her favorite band, and they performed on Saturday Night Live. Not bad for a group who only formed a few years before. When I think of Duran Duran, I err in only focusing on the era between “Planet Earth” (1981) and “Ordinary World” (1993). However, the band has been prolific since then, steadily producing seven studio albums, the most recent being 2015’s Paper Gods.
I never realized there was a connection between David Lynch and Duran Duran until I listened to my husband’s copy of the David Lynch Tribute Album, a live recording of a concert in support of the David Lynch Foundation’s 10th anniversary, and heard their song “The Chauffer” on it.[ii] I wondered why Duran Duran was included on the album, and he told me Lynch had once made a film of one of their concerts. Enter, Duran Duran: Unstaged. The Unstaged Series, sponsored by American Express, paired musical acts with film directors to create a unique viewing and listening experience. Pairings included Spike Lee/John Legend and The Roots, Gary Oldman/Jack White, Werner Herzog/The Killers, and, of course, David Lynch/Duran Duran.[iii] David Lynch has had many special relationships with musical artists, including Sting (Dune), David Bowie (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), Chris Isaak (FWWM), Trent Reznor (music for Lost Highway, The Return), Chrysta Bell (The Return), and Julee Cruise (Twin Peaks, FWWM), among others. The fact Lynch was paired with Duran Duran for the Unstaged series makes total sense, given the band’s artistic vibe—Andy Warhol had invited Duran Duran to The Factory in the early 80s, and they were known for iconic fashion, trendy album art, and elaborate music videos. I was surprised I had never seen Duran Duran: Unstaged, and it was time to remedy that. So, here we go.
The show was filmed and broadcast via livestream from the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles on March 23, 2011. The band was touring in support of their 2011 album, All You Need is Now. The set-list for the show was as follows:[iv] [v]
- All You Need is Now (All You Need is Now, 2011)
- I’m Not Alone (All You Need is Now, 2011)
- Planet Earth (Duran Duran, 1981) with Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance
- Friends of Mine (Duran Duran, 1981)
- Notorious (Notorious, 1986) with Beth Ditto from Gossip
- Blame the Machines (All You Need is Now, 2011)
- Hungry Like the Wolf (Rio, 1982)
- Safe (In the Heat of the Moment) (All You Need is Now, 2011) with producer Mark Ronson
- Leave a Light On (All You Need is Now, 2011)
- Ordinary World (Duran Duran, 1993)
- The Man Who Stole a Leopard (All You Need is Now, 2011) with Kelis
- Girl Panic! (All You Need is Now) with Mark Ronson
- Careless Memories (Duran Duran, 1981)
- (Reach Up for the) Sunrise (Astronaut, 2004)
- Rio (Rio, 1982)
- Come Undone (Duran Duran, 1993) with Kelis
- A View to a Kill (single, 1985)
- Girls on Film (Duran Duran, 1981)
The concert opened with David Lynch on screen in a dark suit and sunglasses. It was shot in black and white, with an overlay of static. Lynch spoke directly into the camera:
Welcome to the March twenty-third Duran Duran Live Cyberspace Concert. This is not your normal concert. This will be an experiment, a kind of live-conjuring of spontaneous musical images and today’s concert. I am hoping for some happy accidents. It’s very good and I’m very happy working for Duran Duran. I had great dreams listening to the music of Duran Duran. When I snap my fingers, the concert will begin. [vi]
When Lynch snapped his fingers, viewers saw an image of someone using a razor to shave off black paint to reveal the words “Duran Duran” in white on the screen, and it began.
So, how did David Lynch craft Duran Duran: Unstaged, as an experiment and “not your normal concert?” He used digital filming techniques to put layers of animations and previously-filmed material over the band, so that you would see Duran Duran playing but with other elements on the screen. In some instances, Lynch would cut out to other filmed material and not show the band at all. Some familiar names who worked on the concert are Peter Deming, director of photography (worked on The Return), Sabrina Sutherland, producer (worked The Return and other Lynch Projects), and Dean Hurley, sound mixer (worked on The Return).
Below, I will cover some of the recurring imagery Lynch used in the concert as well as focus on some of the songs that included rich, entertaining visuals to accompany the band and describe my experience watching them. Before I do that, let’s look at the band itself. Simon, John, Nick, and Roger are all there, joined now by Dom Brown on guitar. Simon is the ever-confident front man in full stubble, wearing jeans, a dark, sparkly shirt, a blazer jacket, and boots. John is cool and controlled in his all-black ensemble. Nick is the somewhat aloof and focused mastermind behind the keyboards, wearing a crisp white shirt and a black jacket with a sparkly shawl collar, and Roger is the workman behind the drums, also clad in black. When the band took the stage, you could hear the Beatlemania-like screams of the mostly female audience. I could tell I was going to be on a nostalgic ride, watching this concert.
Fire and smoke
Lynch used fire and smoke throughout the show. Viewers would see flames or smoke over the band as they played. Sometimes the flame layer would be white, so the fire would be almost indistinguishable from smoke. In other instances, fire would be more prominent and bright orange-red. Orange fire would serve as a transition element in between songs throughout the concert. Often, fire was timed with the chorus of certain songs. For example, in “Rio,” fire would blaze onto the screen with “Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand….” [vii] Nowhere was fire more prominent than during “A View to a Kill,” with the lyric, “Until we dance into the fire, that fatal kiss is all we need….”[viii] Here, instead of the wispy red-orange flames used during song transitions or in “Rio,” we see huge chunks of yellow-orange fire engulfing the band members, almost giving the impression they’re burning in hell. This technique is reminiscent of the big pyrotechnics used in huge stage shows, timed to go off at certain points during crowd favorite tunes.
Smoke is also used to evoke moods in certain songs. The dreamy “Ordinary World” is accompanied by an overlay of bright blue smoke pouring over the band throughout the song. Smoke also appears in “Blame the Machines” and in “Safe (in the Heat of the Moment),” where it rises from sticks stuck in dirt. Near the end of the song, Lynch achieves an eerie effect by reversing the film, and the smoke appears to be sucked back into the sticks in the ground.
Lynch gives Duran Duran: Unstaged an industrial feel by incorporating machines on screen at several points. It is also important to note that, despite animations and layers of additional material often being in color, the band footage is always rendered in black and white, adding to the industrial nature of the show. In “Friends of Mine,” we see futuristic animated helicopters flying through a cloudy, sunset sky. Gears and tape sprockets are used in “Blame the Machines.” Gold, wooden letters on strings, spelling out M-A-C-H-I-N-E are shown in stop motion. They tremble. In “Girl Panic!,” we see a toy metal plane crashing down from above over and over, creating sparks at the bottom of the screen. In “Rio,” in addition to the fire imagery, we see the spinning spokes of a bicycle wheel turning throughout the song, the hub pulsating in different colors from turquoise to red.
Another interesting element Lynch incorporated into the concert was images of a gloved hand. It’s a hand (both hands in some instances) covered in a thick black glove, not unlike the green-gloved Freddie Sykes in The Return. It is not apparent, however, that this gloved hand possesses super strength. The gloved hand first appears in “Friends of Mine” holding an egg-like white ball. Later, the gloved hand is holding a white plastic fork. Near the end of the song, you see framed photographs of the gloved hand holding the ball and the fork on the walls of an art gallery in Las Vegas. In “Careless Memories,” Lynch cuts away to two gloved hands in the act of hammering large black nails into a white wall in a random pattern. It is not clear who the gloved person is or what wall they are hammering nails into, but a small house is featured in two of the songs detailed below.
Songs with rich imagery
A few songs really stood out to me where I feel Lynch used particularly vivid imagery. Some of the visuals seemed directly related to material in the song lyrics, some decidedly did not. I will now describe those songs as I saw them:
Smoke in background. Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance joins the band onstage. Nick Rhodes is up to something behind those keyboards. There it is! The familiar opening of “Planet Earth,” Duran Duran’s first single and one of my favorite of their songs. There is a layer of rain falling on the screen. Way takes over on lead vocals, singing in the same style Simon le Bon did in the original song. He sounds good. Simon joins in on the chorus. Suddenly, there appears a rotating blue planet earth right in the middle of the screen. Just when I thought that was a bit on the nose for Lynch, he cuts away to a kind of creepy looking house, with one lit window. Then, a balloon head on a string appears, floating in the foreground. The head has a misshapen face and looks as if it is made of meat-colored clay. As the balloon head floats away, sparks appear where the light in the window was. Flames shoot out of the house’s chimney. The rotating planet earth comes back on screen.
“The Man Who Stole the Leopard”
Kelis (of “Milkshake” fame) joins on this song from All You Need is Now—she appeared on the album version as well. The song opens up with scraping keyboard sounds. Multicolored striations of light fill the screen over the band. You see machinery images (gears, pistons), and then we see our friend, the balloon head, floating up again. Then another balloon head appears. Finally, a third balloon head joins the party, this one with spiky hair. The balloon heads float over Simon le Bon and Kelis as they sing. Clouds pass by, and then we see the house with the one lit window appear. Suddenly, we are inside the house, where a man and a woman stand on each side of the window. The walls are white. Was the gloved man hammering nails in the house? The light we had seen from the outside now illuminates the man’s and woman’s faces. They appear to be in a trance, their arms held out in front of them like zombies. The scene goes in reverse, like a negative. The room and the window swirl and jerk back and forth. An animation of an old-timey radio appears, flashing in different colors—white, blue, orange. The song ends with an image of several plastic toy leopard figures in sand.
“(Reach Up for the) Sunrise”
This is another song off of All You Need is Now. It’s a happy, airy song. A spinning yellow stylized sun with rays emanating from it floats in and fills up the screen. The sunrays rotate, often appearing like the sprockets on a cassette tape. The song is about the sun, here is a sun. But then, a topless Barbie appears. She is wearing a painted-on red thong and has a “D” over each breast (Get it? Double D’s/Duran Duran). She is dancing, literally reaching up for the sunrise over and over. Her eyes are blurred out. Other Barbies, exact copies of the first one, appear one by one, until there are several Barbies reaching up for the sunrise by the end of the song.
Kelis is back for the encore. The crowd goes nuts for the opening strains of this popular song from the 1993 album entitled “Duran Duran” but also known as “The Wedding Album” due to its cover depicting a bride and groom. Here, Lynch cuts away to a charcoal grill with several hotdogs on it. A man slaps the grill with a spatula over and over, rhythmically, but not necessarily to the beat of the song. Underneath the grill is bright green summer grass. When Kelis sings the part: “Can’t ever keep from falling apart / At the seams / Can’t I believe you’re taking my heart / To pieces,”[ix] three plush rats sing along. Cut back to the grill: some of the hotdogs have either fallen into the grill or flown off the side, due to the slapping of the spatula. Later, two puppets, a leopard and a dog, join in. During the chorus, “Who do you need? Who do you love?” a black question mark floats into view and explodes. At the end of the song, all of the hotdogs are gone. A blue planet earth (not spinning this time) and clouds appear.
What does all of this mean, and how does it connect to Lynch’s universe? I don’t know, but it was fun to watch. Was David Lynch successful in creating an experimental, not normal concert? In my opinion, he was. As a fan of Duran Duran and of Lynch’s work, I thoroughly enjoyed Duran Duran: Unstaged. I couldn’t wait to 1) hear what song Duran Duran was going to do next, and 2) what tricks Lynch had up his sleeve to make it more artistic. Lynch had stated listening to Duran Duran gave him great dreams. That the imagery Lynch used was often disconnected from the songs evokes the non-sequitur, surprising quality of dreams. Art doesn’t always follow a straight line. I do think you need to be a fan of both Duran Duran and Lynch to really have fun with Duran Duran: Unstaged. It also may not hurt that I watched the show some seven years after its release and had no real sense of anticipation in seeing my favorite band on screen in either a live stream or Blu Ray release. Simon le Bon himself found Lynch’s approach bizarre, but he enjoyed it: “The most surreal moment for me is when he intercuts footage of somebody barbecuing sausages into the song ‘Come Undone’… not what we had in mind, but it’s absolutely hilarious.”[x] Le Bon further indicated the band gave Lynch total control over the visuals for the art project, stating, “You don’t try to direct a director like Lynch, really.” Apparently, some Duranies did not share le Bon’s view of the film and clearly did not appreciate Lynch’s artistic vision for the concert. The title of one Amazon review from a Duran Duran fan says it all: “Hot Dogs and Sock Puppets and Naked Barbies. Unworthy of Duran Duran.” You can click the link and read that review and others to see what fans thought of the piece, though there are positive reviews there as well.
Did any readers watch the Duran Duran: Unstaged when it aired or on Blu Ray? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Add a comment here or send me a note on Twitter @lubbockchick
[i] Duran Duran Timeline: retrieved from http://www.duranduran.com/wordpress/duran-duran-timeline-1980-1995/
[ii] David Lynch tribute album features Sky Ferreira, Lykki Li, Flaming Lip, Karen O, more, retrieved from https://pitchfork.com/news/64630-david-lynch-tribute-album-features-sky-ferreira-lykke-li-flaming-lips-karen-o-more/
iii Unstaged, Wikipedia article, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unstaged
[iv] Duran Duran: Unstaged setlist retrieved from: http://duranduran.wikia.com/wiki/Unstaged:_Duran_Duran
[v] Duran Duran discography retrieved from: http://duranduran.wikia.com/wiki/Duran_Duran_discography
[vi] Lynch, David and Duran Duran, (2011), Duran Duran: Unstaged
[viii] Lyrics for “A View to a Kill” retrieved from http://lyrics.wikia.com/wiki/Duran_Duran:A_View_To_A_Kill
[x] Appelo, Tim, (2014). Simon le Bon on David Lynch’s “Duran Duran: Unstaged’: “It’s quite bizarre.” Retrieved from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/simon-le-bon-david-lynchs-732021