Duranalysis: Is There Something I Should Know?

You know, I planned this all wrong.

Back in March, when I first embarked upon this ongoing analysis of Duran Duran videos, I opted to tackle them in random order instead of knocking them out chronologically. So, naturally, I ripped through all the fun, juicy videos right at the start, both the ones I shamelessly adore (“Wild Boys,” “Night Boat”), and the ones I enjoy mocking (“View To a Kill,” “New Moon On Monday”). My mistake. Now that I’m fast running out of material from the band’s Golden Age of Video, I’m stuck with the dregs.

Hello, “Is There Something I Should Know?”

Let’s put this video into the proper historical context: “Is There Something I Should Know?” was a stand-alone single, not part of an album. It hit airwaves in 1983, after the release of Rio but before Seven and the Ragged Tiger, and became the band’s first number one hit in the UK. The video, which was directed by their frequent collaborator Russell Mulcahy, was crafted with no shortage of effort. It’s stylish, it’s slick, it’s attractive, it’s witty, and so help me, it bores the snot out of me.

The bulk of the video features a bunch of surreal stuff happening inside a white room. Here, for instance, we have four Simons wandering about. Not that Simon isn’t awesome, but one Simon Le Bon is really the maximum any universe can be reasonably expected to contain.

Simon seems to be toting around a fork. It might have some deep symbolic significance. It might also mean he was hauled off to the set to start filming while he was smack in the middle of his lunch (I’m going to guess… lobster thermidor, washed down with an excellent Beaujolais and a handful of gummi bears).

For this video, the boys all wear cute matching outfits -- blue shirts, white neckties, black pants -- perhaps as a nod to the Beatles, to whom they were frequently compared during this time. It’s preposterous for any band to rank themselves alongside the Beatles, of course, but in the case of Duran Duran, there’s some (slight) weight behind the claim. Thanks in large part to the Beatles’ films like Help! and A Hard Day’s Night and to Duran Duran’s high-profile music videos, all the members of both bands cemented themselves as individuals in the collective pop-culture consciousness in a way very few other bands have managed. Simon, John, Nick, Andy and Roger don’t have anywhere near the same level of widespread first-name recognition as John, Paul, George and Ringo… but they come a whole lot closer than most groups.

Something else they have in common with the Beatles: Chicks dig them. Like, a lot.

Simon climbs up a staircase while John toys with a sextant in the foreground. Here’s my personal interpretation of this video, which may be wildly off base: It’s about charting a course from childhood to adulthood. Hence, John is fiddling around with a navigational instrument. Later, we’ll see an old man -- an aged version of John, perhaps -- sitting at a dust-covered table, upon which rests the same sextant. Tempus fugit.

Remember back in my “Rio” analysis how I mentioned that John and Nick sometimes have a weird, magical ability to look like each other? They’re doing it again. I thought this was Nick at first until I took another gander at the hair. Nick’s hair has gone through a wide array of colors over the years, but he’s rarely a brunette.

You can see the influences of various artists in the set design -- there’s clearly some Magritte, and a whole lot of Escher, and probably some other artists my single art history course didn’t prepare me to identify. Pour a few champagne cocktails into Nick, and I’m sure he’d be happy to point out all the homages to various artists in this video, most likely in great and comprehensive detail.

Hmm. Getting drunk on champagne cocktails with Nick Rhodes just became one of my new Wildly Improbable Life Goals. That’d be awesome. Oh, sure, he’d probably chide me for the gaps in my knowledge of the art world and make withering comments about my cheap shoes, but it’d totally be worth it.

I’m going to rip through a bunch of scenes pretty quickly, so hang on: We see some shots of a baby watching Duran Duran videos, “My Own Way” and “Save a Prayer” in particular. I’m guessing we’re meant to interpret this as the baby catching a fleeting glimpse of his possible future, but mostly this just reminds me I’d rather be watching “Save a Prayer.” Or hell, even “My Own Way.”

Also: Out of all the bare asses that could possibly be flaunted in this video, this is entirely the wrong one.

Simon climbs the staircase leading out of the surreal white room and finds himself on the front steps of a building, surrounded by briefcase-carrying men in bowler hats and suits. Everything’s now shot in dreary black and white.

He winds up in a wooded area, where a toddler carrying a red ball is chased by a cluster of other children. The men in bowler hats perform a bunch of fussy measurements on trees and create some kind of triangular vortex. The toddler stares at the vortex, then chases the red ball back into the white room.

It’s all subject to personal interpretation, but here’s my take on all this: Both the baby and the toddler represent young versions of Simon, who is serving as a surrogate for the viewer. We see various pathways leading to adulthood -- the baby could join the glorious Technicolor lifestyle of Duran Duran, flamenco dancers and all, or he could grow up to wear a dull suit and a bowler hat and lead a drab life of nine-to-five drudgery.

Tough call.

Let’s check in with the rest of the band: They spend a lot of screen time looking up at a high window, singing in unison while looking super-earnest. Heh. All the time and care that went into making this video, and no one bothered to fetch an apple crate for poor wee Nick so he could be properly seen in this shot. It looks like John’s shoulder has sprouted a crazy tuft of vibrant orange hair.

For some reason, we’re treated to the sight of Roger, Nick and Andy crowding around an old-time microphone while doing a finger-wagging synchronized routine to the famous/infamous “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war” lyric. Er… they’re also dressed in fancy 19th Century French military uniforms. Yeah, I don’t know.

(There’s a cute and far too short clip on YouTube in which Simon and Nick watch their old videos while making sarcastic quips and going into fits of mad giggles at the absurdity of it all; I have no idea where the footage originally comes from, but it’s adorable. Anyway, here’s what Simon had to say about this shot: “I’d asked for West Point military uniforms for that. Officer and a Gentleman. What’d we get? Napoleon Bonaparte!” Yes, because West Point uniforms would have made complete sense.)

Nick somehow manages to look simultaneously ethereal and sinister here, which is a neat trick. It is not altogether easy for a fine-boned, pocket-sized pixie with tangerine hair and matching lipstick to look gritty and tough, but damned if he’s not pulling it off. If he were a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, Tyra would call him “Fierce!” and hand him his photo first.

(Guilty secret: I watch a lot of America’s Next Top Model. I’m reasonably certain Nick does, too.)

And we get a flashback to what I’m guessing was picked as Nick’s single most iconic moment in their videos up to this point: It’s the bit in “Night Boat,” pre-zombie attack, where he’s slinking around the dock and peering into windows and generally acting odd. Excellent choice.

John, while heart-wrenchingly lovely as ever, is a little low on energy and star power in this video. Under usual circumstances, John’s phenomenal beauty torpedoes all his bandmates out of the water, but I’m going to have to award the Prettiest Duran title and tiara to Nick this time around.

John’s most iconic moment: Getting his makeup applied in “Girls on Film.” Eh, sure. Why not?

And here’s Andy. Oh, Andy. I’m not going to comment on the hair. I’ll limit myself to saying this: Andy is even shorter than Nick, and almost as slight, and yet I’ve never even considered referring to him as a “pocket-sized pixie.”

Let’s see what they’ve chosen as Andy’s iconic video moment. Ah, here we go, it’s him flipping over a table in “Hungry Like the Wolf,” which totally seems like something he does on a semi-regular basis. The small problem with this, of course, is that he didn’t do it -- it was Simon, not Andy, who flipped the table. It’s sad to realize that Andy has been too under-represented in these videos to have any single defining moment to showcase here.

Last up, as usual, is Roger. On Duran Duran’s official website, when asked by a fan if there were any video moments he regretted, Roger picked this business here, where he’s singing to the camera: “I look very uncomfortable doing this and cringe every time I see it to this day.” Aw, Roger.

Roger’s iconic moment: the opening shot of “Planet Earth,” where he’s shirtless and sculpted and gorgeous. Yeah, that’s a good one.

Simon is not given a single iconic moment, probably because, as I’ve pointed out before, Duran Duran videos tend to be All Simon, All the Time anyway. Fair enough.

And… that’s the video. Whenever I watch it, it’s always with a faint sense of irritation, because at this point in their career, they had the resources and energy and enthusiasm to pull off something bigger, wilder, splashier, sillier. They could have posed as… I don’t know, space explorers. Vampires. Pirates. Circus performers. Mercenaries. Film noir detectives. Drug lords. Edwardian prostitutes. Anything! Instead, they stood in a white room and sang earnestly at a window. If that doesn’t rate as a missed opportunity, I don’t know what does.


Cheryl Kraynak said…
Well, all the fun parts of the song itself, one of my favorites, negate the silliness in this video.
I always liked the little boy and the ball, whoever he was meant to be. But about that baby's bare ass...considering Nick is the surprise star of this video, I'd rather see the baby's bare ass than Nick's!

I've concluded that since we can't call Andy a pixie, we can call him a wee Playmobil figure. Aren't some of them fashioned to look like they're wearing 19th century French military uniforms?
Morgan Richter said…
I've concluded that since we can't call Andy a pixie, we can call him a wee Playmobil figure. Aren't some of them fashioned to look like they're wearing 19th century French military uniforms?

Indeed they are. Yes, Andy is definitely much more Playmobil than pixie.

I'd rather see the baby's bare ass than Nick's!

Yeah, for as gorgeous as the boys all were during this time, most of them were better served by keeping their clothes on whenever there were cameras around (with the exception of Roger, who actually had, like, biceps and visible muscle definition). John was almost painfully bony (you can count his ribs when he's running around shirtless with his jacket open in "Hungry Like the Wolf"), and while baby Nick had finally hit the legal US drinking age by the time "Is There Something I Should Know?" was released, he still looked painfully young and fragile. So, yes: Nick is lovely, but I don't need to see his bare ass.
details-later said…
Funny, "Is There Something…" is/was one of my favorite Duran videos (the song just seemed to jibe so well with it!), but you're right: the strange visuals in it don't really make any sense!

In light of that, I think the Duran videos were the culmination of Nick's pixie powers. They were his opportunities to get his Bowie on — he loved unlikely juxtaposition, whether it was the music or visuals, so I can see him discussing the random-ry (not an actual word) with Russell. (We see Nick do this in the Sing Blue Silver documentary, sorting how to film the live concert that became "Arena.")

I still love the result, though.

I hope you make your Duranalysis makes it all the way to "Lonely In Your Nightmare." The Durans (except Simon, again) gets a beauty closeup at the end of the video. Everybody looks good in that one, even Andy! Well, also because he's finally in it too.

Did you notice that Andy's hair was much longer in his "highlight" closeup compared to the looking-up-to-the-light shots? Filmed at different times, perhaps?
Morgan Richter said…
I hope you make your Duranalysis makes it all the way to "Lonely In Your Nightmare."

Yup. I've got "Lonely In Your Nightmare," "The Chauffeur," "Planet Earth," and, of course, "Girls On Film" left to cover, and that'll be it for their Golden Age.

Did you notice that Andy's hair was much longer in his "highlight" closeup compared to the looking-up-to-the-light shots? Filmed at different times, perhaps?

Very strange! Andy's hair is like an entirely separate entity, with a mind and will of its own.
Cheryl Kraynak said…
"Andy's hair is like an entirely separate entity, with a mind and will of its own"

--At least it's not like that orange tuft growing out of John's shoulder! (haw haw!)
Morgan Richter said…
At least it's not like that orange tuft growing out of John's shoulder!

Hee. That burst of wild orange hair sprouting out of John's shoulder never fails to crack me up. It's my single favorite shot in the video.
Luindriel said…
Jumping into this convo 5 years late... I always thought this one was loosely based on A Wrinkle in Time, on Camazotz. Everyone the same... The one kid bouncing the ball out of beat with the town's rhythm... But don't ask me about all the other images!
I won't tell you how many hours I've spent today reading your blog and watching the videos... Lol.
Morgan Richter said…
Luindriel, holy crap, that's a great insight about Camazotz/Wrinkle in Time. That never even occurred to me, and yet it seems very, very plausible. Glad you've been enjoying the blog -- these videos are so much fun to watch and examine.
Valentine said…
Oh lord, this review is so old, yet gold~

It was really entertaining to see this review.
By the way, did you know the specific name of the clothes that they're wearing? Sure, they are wearing blue shirts, black pants and some black shoes too, but I've always wondered the specific name of them, especially the shirt.

I'm planning to wear those kind of clothes on a party~
Thank you!

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