Duranalysis: The Reflex

Back in the day, I didn’t have much use for Duran Duran’s video for “The Reflex.” After all, it consists entirely of concert footage, which, to my way of thinking, is the laziest and least interesting way of doing things. When it comes to music videos, I’m a big fan of strong narratives. Strong, weird, overblown, confusing, crazy, awesome narratives. Still, while I’d rather watch the boys fending off zombies or stumbling around bleak apocalyptic wastelands, I’ve since learned to relax and embrace “The Reflex.” It’s a concert video, yes, but it’s a pretty damn entertaining one.

Directed by the great Russell Mulcahy, “The Reflex” was filmed in 1984 during the band’s Sing Blue Silver world tour. While it may not be my all-time favorite Duran Duran video, there’s an awful lot to like about it. I like the gleeful synchronized hop Simon and Andy and John all take upon hitting the stage. I like Simon’s infectious enthusiasm. I like the preposterously high energy level. I like the shots of all those ecstatic, overwhelmed young audience members, particularly those two dudes who stand on their seats and bop around proudly as if to proclaim to the world, “Look, we’re guys, we’re at a Duran Duran concert, and we’re having ourselves a fantastic time, so all you haters out there can suck it.”

The video features a simple, uncluttered set, which gives Simon plenty of room in which to cavort madly about. At the back of the stage, there’s a row of stately Doric columns, like a Greek amphitheater, only, y’know, in chartreuse neon. For more detail, I’ll turn it over to Andy, who discusses the filming of this video in his memoir. Quoth Andy, “The set was based on something extravagant that Nick had sketched out while we were in Montserrat together the previous summer.” Now, there’s a sentence that somehow manages to encapsulate the entire Duran Duran mystique in a few simple words. Andy doesn’t elaborate further, but since we’re talking about Nick, let’s assume it was sketched with a Chanel eyeliner pencil on a damp cocktail napkin, which had been used to mop up a spilled bottle of Krug. Because that’s just how Nick rolls.


There’s an enormous screen at the top of the stage, which projects footage of the concert to the nosebleed seats. On occasion, the screen also displays silhouettes of people indulging in various energetic leisure-time activities, most of which involve nudity and chains. In the silhouette below, some nice young man appears to be giving a naked lady a pony ride. One of the things I admire most about Duran Duran, apart from their staggering good looks and their lively pop tunes, is the way they careen between wholesome and kinky without pausing for breath. It’s a delicate balance, and they maintain it well: They’re just a bunch of fun-loving English lads who are irresistible to pre-teen girls and who also might, on occasion, enjoy being ridden like ponies.


At one point, a gigantic CGI wave appears to flood out of the screen and drench the audience below, which.... well, it’s a sad truth that special effects that looked totally cool in 1984 rarely rate very high by 2011 standards, so we’ll gloss over this part of the video and move right along.


Simon looks the best he’s ever looked. He’s always been an attractive bloke, but here, he vaults into the elite realm of the smoking-hot. Hair, makeup, wardrobe, all of it looks great. This is a concert video, and yet everyone looks consistently daisy-fresh and impeccably coiffed. Don’t bands always look wrecked during live concerts? Sweat-drenched clothes, smeared makeup, lank hair, lots of flying spittle? Not here. Not Duran Duran. They’re above such mundane human considerations as excessive perspiration.


You know what might be the very best part of this video? The way Simon leaps and bounces and springs around the stage like a live-action version of a Dragon Ball character. I stand in awe of his energy and verve. I know I gave Simon a hard time last week for his hilariously dramatic poses and gyrations throughout the “Careless Memories” video, but here, his instincts are bang on. He moves well, he covers the stage from end to end, and it all looks very natural and graceful.


It probably goes without saying, but you know what I mentioned earlier about everyone being impeccably coiffed? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to Andy. There are only so many times I can grouse about Andy’s hair, and I feel like I’ve comprehensively addressed that subject in my earlier posts, so I’ll limit myself to pointing out that he looks pretty good here. At the least, he looks healthy and happy, which, for Andy, is not always a given. He’s not scowling from behind dark sunglasses, which is a step in the right direction. His color’s good, he grins a lot, and he seems to be having a fantastic time.


John looks beautiful. Yes, yes, John always looks beautiful, but, like Simon, he’s kicked it up a notch or two above his usual high standard. Hopefully the boys kept the hair and makeup people from this video on retainer, because somebody -- presumably multiple somebodies -- sure knew what they were doing.


Look, it’s a concert video. John doesn’t do much other than play his bass while looking unfathomably lovely, and that’s enough. I don’t have a whole lot more to say on the matter. I just like looking at pretty photos of him.


Of all the Durans, Roger gets the least amount of screen time, and that probably suited him just fine. Here’s how you keep Roger happy: Stick him in a shadowy area of the stage, keep the cameras mostly out of his face, and just let him bang on his drums in peace.


And then there’s Nick. Ah, Nick. Glowering from behind his barricade of synthesizers and monitors and sundry equipment, Nick looks gorgeous and terrifying and unearthly, like he’s the malevolent apprentice to David Bowie’s Goblin King from Labyrinth. Hair: fiery. Makeup: flawless. Demeanor: frosty. Mood: dangerous. In contrast to hyperactive Simon and happy-go-lucky John and revved-up Andy (and nigh-invisible Roger), Nick spends most of the video trying to shoot bolts of fire from his eyes at the audience. Nick is always gloriously, gorgeously weird (key quote from Simon about his first-ever meeting with his future bandmate: “I’d been told that Nick was a bit of a weirdo…”), but he’s never weirder than when he’s performing onstage. And I mean that in the best possible way.


Interesting tidbit: In his memoir, Andy brings up the theory that “The Reflex” is all about Nick. Simon denies this, though if you look at the lyrics, it makes a certain amount of crazy sense. While Nick might raise an imperious eyebrow at being compared to a child waiting by the park, it’s true that every little thing he does leaves me answered with a question mark, starting with his fashion choices in this video. Take a look at that sweater: It’s made from bulky tweed, it has that strange leather cutout in front, it’s got puffy princess sleeves… It is, in short, the ugliest, most wretched sweater imaginable, and it’s probably miserably hot and itchy when worn under scorching stage lights… and yet Nick makes it look appropriate and stylish, as though wearing a bulky, scratchy tweed sweater was the perfect and most logical option under the circumstances. This is the magic of Nick.


So, “The Reflex.” A perfectly decent video, a downright awesome concert video. Would it have been improved with the appearance of zombies, a la the “Night Boat” video? Hell, yes. But in terms of how it achieves what it sets out to do, I’ve got no complaints.



Comments

Ingrid Richter said…
Another fine review, Morgan. Loved Nick's shoulder-shimmy during this video.

Wasn't the Jumbotron an evil part of Durand Durand's plan to capture loyal, fun-loving Duran Duran fans in Arena?

Heh. Evil technology!
Morgan Richter said…
Nick is the undisputed master of the cold, regal shoulder-shimmy. Yeah, all sorts of chaos breaks out with Durand Durand and the screen in Arena. Ah, Arena. Such goofy, incomprehensible good fun.
Cheryl Kraynak said…
ah, the shoulder shimmy *and* the "look" --I'm having deja vu about that sweater...like it's not the first time I've seen him in scratchy tweed.

It was with pleasure that I heard Nick do the barf-sounding sound effects in the middle of the song at their recent CT concert--by speaking into the mike, not pushing a key. But then he said something afterwards to Simon that I haven't been able to decipher. It's on YouTube somewhere...

I always wondered what the Reflex was about, but the whole idea of it being about Nick is a new one that I'll have to ponder.

The bigger question is, how did the concertgoers in the audience get wet if the water was CGI? (I mean, what happened at the real concert and who did it?) I always wondered that, too.
Morgan Richter said…
Here's what Andy had to say in his memoir about the whole possible Nick/Reflex link: Years later, when Simon wrote the lyrics to "The Reflex," there was a lot of speculation that the song was about Nick. According to the song, "The Reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark." That's what Nick would do: he was a genius at finding little bits of treasure in a song. (Nick's also an only child like in "The Reflex," although Simon denies the lyrics are about him.) Kind of an interesting idea, though I don't know if there's anything to it.

The bigger question is, how did the concertgoers in the audience get wet if the water was CGI?

From what I gather (i.e. from my old friend Wikipedia), while much of the video was shot live during a concert in Toronto, they filmed some of it earlier in the day, without the audience. I can't be sure, but I'd guess they hired extras to play audience members and get drenched in some non-CGI-related manner, then filmed that bit before the actual concert.
Cheryl Kraynak said…
...and extra filming would explain how the guys look sweat-free and perfect for the camera.
Morgan Richter said…
...and extra filming would explain how the guys look sweat-free and perfect for the camera.

Indeed it would. There's just no way the guys could all look that dewy-fresh without someone coming in to sponge them down and retouch their makeup in the middle of the performance. Even for Duran Duran, it's just not possible.
MusicRocks said…
I know I'm late to this party, but I love all your posts on DD. After reading this post and learning that they have extra filming, I went back and look at the video and found that sometimes the Simon on the big video screen does not match what the one of stage is doing. It's fun spotting this!
Morgan Richter said…
Thanks, MusicRocks! You're absolutely right -- I just went back and checked (thanks for giving me an excuse to watch the video again), and sure enough, Simon on the screen doesn't always match Simon on the stage (it's particularly noticeable around 2:27, when John and Andy are also in the shot, doing completely different stuff than they're doing on stage at that moment). Funny...
MusicRocks said…
I'm overly proud upon discovering this! I'd love to read you analysis some more DD videos!
Morgan Richter said…
I'll try to get to more DD analysis this year. They're fun to write. Maybe I'll start in on the Notorious-era videos next.

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