Duranalysis: Arcadia’s The Flame
It’s The Nick and Simon Show, with a surprise appearance by John!
Brief spurt of backstory here, for those who aren’t hip to this whole Arcadia business: In 1984-1985, at the peak of their wild success, the Duran Duran boys briefly split apart into two separate side projects: John and Andy teamed up with Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson to form The Power Station, while Simon, Nick and Roger banded together as Arcadia (Roger, ever the neutral party, also performed on some Power Station tracks). The differences between the two groups are most eloquently summed up in this excellent recent interview with the boys, in which it’s established that Arcadia produced “the most pretentious album ever made,” whereas Power Station produced “the most cocainey album ever made.” As I’ve always been far more pretentious than cocainey, I’m partial to Arcadia. Also, their videos were better.
Roger didn’t appear in any of Arcadia’s videos; in fact, by the time the video for "The Flame" was shot in 1986, Roger had already left Duran Duran, with Andy following him out the door shortly thereafter. “The Flame” was directed by Russell Mulcahy, the man responsible for Duran Duran’s huge, awesome, epic monstrosities (“Wild Boys”) as well as some of their lesser-known gems (“Night Boat”). This falls into the latter category. It’s a fun, fluffy trifle of a video -- it’s a little Rocky Horror Picture Show, a little Agatha Christie, and a whole lot of Nick and Simon being hammy and adorable. Damn good song, too. Let’s get to it:
Ooo, opening titles! Fancy!
On a dark and foggy night, Simon and his girlfriend approach a mansion. A sign reading “BEWARE” hangs on the gate; Simon checks a slip of paper to confirm they’re in the right place. Simon is in full-tilt geek mode: glasses, curly hair, sweater vest, bow tie. His date, while cute as a button, is a far cry from the sultry, sophisticated minxes who typically slink about in Duran Duran videos. For starters, she’s wearing an orange tie-dyed sundress. It’s as awful as it sounds.
They bumble their way inside the mansion, bumping into doors and tripping over their own feet while gawking at their opulent surroundings. Established: They’re dorks. The lavish dining room is populated with the usual assortment of grim-visaged servants, crusty old gentlemen, dowagers in funny hats, and glamorous blondes. First and foremost amongst the glamorous blondes is the extra-pretty, extra-petite lord of the manor. Hi, Nick!
Oh, this is worth seeing: After spending most of the previous year hanging out on the super-girly side of the androgyny spectrum, Nick has undergone yet another metamorphosis. He’s chopped off the luxurious mane of jet-black hair he sported for much of his Arcadia phase and peroxided the bejesus out of it, and it looks fantastic.
Quick comparison study: This was Nick’s starting point. When Nick gives himself a makeover, he doesn’t muck about.
While Nick’s guests regard the newcomers with disdain, Simon and his date fumble around the dining room and act like rubes. A dowager hands Simon a glass of wine (note how he’s interrupted every time he tries to take a sip). When his date drops her handkerchief, Simon bends down to pick it up… just as an archer pops in through a window and riddles the wall with arrows right where he’d been standing.
Simon seems mildly affronted by this blatant attempt on his life, but mostly takes it in stride.
Still marveling at the posh surroundings, Simon’s date stumbles against the wall, which swivels open and sucks her into darkness. Simon looks vaguely confused by her vanishing act, but before he can investigate, he’s distracted by the pair of gorgeous blondes -- Nick and his elegant female companion -- who are now reclining in armchairs in the library attached to the dining room.
Forgetting all about his date, he heads off to join them. The creepy servants watch him and whisper amongst themselves; the glowing eyes of a painted portrait follow him.
By the way, Simon will continue to forget about and/or ignore his date for the rest of the damn video. Simon is a terrible boyfriend.
In the library, Simon loiters by the fireplace and tries to look casual. Nick and his companion seem amused by his attempts to fit in with the cool kids. When Nick yanks a lever beside his chair, the entire mantle swivels around, and Simon disappears, just as his date vanished earlier.
He finds himself on a moving train. Being a plucky sort, Simon is unfazed. He hands his still-untouched drink off to a random lady and bops his way through the train car. I envy Simon’s ability to dance around while walking without looking like a complete jackass.
Nick, disguised in a trench coat and hat, hastily slinks into a compartment and scrunches down to avoid being spotted by Simon.
…You know, it’s very difficult to suss out the whole Nick-Simon dynamic in this video. Do they know each other? Nick has been doing a bang-up job of snubbing Simon up to this point, but now he’s secretly following him? Odd.
Back to the dining room, where everyone, Nick and his blonde companion included, is now seated around the table. The dowager who handed Simon her wine at the beginning furtively passes a small bottle to one of the servants. While it’s not completely clear, I think we’re meant to assume she poisoned Simon’s drink earlier. For reasons unknown, everyone’s trying to murder Simon. Except for Nick, who doesn’t seem to care overmuch whether Simon lives or dies.
Simon emerges onto the balcony running around the dining room and, while Nick and his glamorous blonde look on and snicker, swings down from a rope conveniently dangling from the ceiling. Any old loser could take the stairs, but that’s not the Simon Le Bon way.
Simon overshoots the dining room and crashes through the patio doors. Very calmly, Nick rises from the table, flings open the doors, and releases the hounds on Simon. All of this seems very natural, actually. Hell, at this stage in his career, Nick was probably releasing the hounds on overzealous fans who trespassed on his property on at least a weekly basis.
While the hounds chase Simon about the courtyard, Nick opens up a closet. Out pops the lovely John Taylor, who is brandishing a contract.
Various YouTube commenters have already plucked all the low-hanging jokes involving Nick and John and closets, so I’ll just skip over all that and get to the point of this scene: Apparently (i.e. “according to Wikipedia”) John’s contract is a reference to the legal wrangling the band went through with Andy to get him to fulfill his obligation to work on the Notorious album. I have no idea whether this is true (Wikipedia, you know), but I love the idea of the boys throwing a quick “suck eggs, Andy!” moment into this video.
Anyway, a somewhat mauled and bedraggled Simon climbs onto the roof of the mansion to escape the hounds. He crashes through the ceiling, where he lands on top of a woman in a bathtub, which then crashes through the floor and lands in the dining room.
Simon brushes himself off and plops down at the table beside Nick’s blonde. A blowpipe extends from a wall-mounted tiger’s head and fires a dart at him; Nick calmly reaches over and smashes Simon’s face into his bowl of soup to save him. The dart strikes the butler hovering behind Simon.
Having thus saved Simon’s life (and doomed his butler in the process), an unruffled and implacable Nick sips champagne. This is probably the best video ever for exploiting Nick’s strange, contradictory aura of benevolent malice (malicious benevolence?). I have no idea what’s going on in this video, or who’s trying to murder Simon, or whether Nick is a force of good or evil, and you know what? I don’t care. I’m just enjoying the show.
Blinded by the soup, Simon stumbles around the dining room. Nick twists a dial, which opens a trapdoor. Nick’s mansion is awesome. Simon tumbles through it and lands in the basement.
Nick, ever inscrutable, whips out a blindfold and ties it onto his glamorous blonde. Hmm. Nick and blindfolds go pretty well together.
If you watch a bunch of Duran Duran videos, it’s only natural to start idly speculating about Nick’s sexual habits (…that’s not just me, right?). Luckily, Nick’s former longtime girlfriend Madeleine Farley helpfully weighed in on that very topic in an interview: “I had a pair of couture fangs surreptitiously made for him -- the dentist and I were in cahoots. He'd always wear them in bed, and I'd have on my six-inch Manolos.”
Couture fangs, people. Couture fangs.
In the basement, Simon staggers past a fuse box and gets zapped by bolts of electricity.
This shorts out the lights upstairs. Everyone from the dinner party arranges their chairs into a circle and sits in the dark while a freak storm blows open the patio doors and send the curtains billowing.
Simon rejoins the party. Simon’s date, you’ll be glad to hear, is amongst the assembled guests, so she didn’t meet some kind of unspeakable fate at the start of the video. No, Simon doesn’t pay her a lick of attention.
Nick and Simon and the blonde stand in the center of the circle of chairs. Everyone in the room simultaneously collapses into a lifeless heap; only Simon and Nick and the blonde get back up on their feet. It’s deeply strange, but for all I know, this might be a typical evening’s entertainment at Casa Rhodes. Look, everything I’ve ever heard about Nick suggests he’s both glamorous and weird, and that’s how I prefer it. If it turns out he spends most of his evenings playing computer solitaire and microwaving Lean Cuisine entrees, I don’t ever want to hear about it.
Simon, Nick and the blonde tromp out of the mansion hand in hand, having apparently formed some kind of weird, fabulous, sexy ménage à trois.
The video ends on a “To be continued..?” title card, which, sadly, is nothing but a tease. Following this, Nick and Simon joined back up with John and continued on as Duran Duran, and the strange world of Arcadia and this video was abandoned forever.
(Special thanks to Khanada for tipping me off to a much cleaner copy of this video online, thus allowing me to replace my muddy screenshots with better ones.)