Video Analysis: Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”

Let’s shake things up a bit here and move slightly away from Duran Duran for a second to examine one of the most cheerful, colorful, glorious videos of the 1980s. I speak, of course, of Elton John’s 1983 video for “I’m Still Standing.”

“I’m Still Standing” was directed by Russell Mulcahy, and stylistically, it’s very similar to the work Mulcahy did on Duran Duran’s “Rio,” what with all the body paint and brightly-colored pop-art imagery. And, like, “Rio,” it doesn’t have much of a plot. Here we go:

Sir Elton drives along the French Riviera in his flashy convertible, singing up a storm and looking like a million bucks. Throughout the course of this video, he’ll undergo multiple wardrobe changes and don a gazillion different pairs of sunglasses. I would expect no less from the man who famously packs two tiaras whenever he travels: one formal, one casual. In honor of Elton, I’m wearing my own tiara while writing this. And I may or may not* be sipping champagne to get in the proper spirit of things.

*I’m not. I’m sipping a super-healthy and virtuous pureed blend of spinach and vegetable broth, served in a champagne flute to make it seem festive. It’s a little sad, actually. I am wearing a tiara, though. That part is true.

Elton pulls up to the Carlton Hotel, where he’s greeted by dancing shirtless bellboys and a bunch of seminude dancers slathered in body paint. I have never been to Cannes. But when I go, I will be staying at the Carlton. And I will be very, very disappointed if the bellboys are wearing shirts.

Or pants, for that matter: At the door, Elton encounters a fetching pantsless bellboy, whom he tips in gold dust. Hey, it’s Dancing with the Stars judge Bruno Tonioli!  Confession: I have never watched Dancing with the Stars, nor have I watched the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, or any other program upon which Tonioli has made his name. But just from this video? I kind of love him. Here’s Bruno telling The Sun about his part in this divine madness:

“My role was to play a variety of dancing characters, including the campest hotel bellboy you could imagine, complete with cap, black Y-fronts and a studded belt. The motivation for this role was to gyrate my crotch in just about every shot.”

And you gyrate it well, Bruno.

In I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Russell Mulcahy describes this video, with affection and obvious pride, as being “super, super gay.” Yep. It is. And it is glorious.

Not that straights should feel excluded: The video flirts with sexuality of the hetero variety as well. Here are a bunch of happy beachgoers engaging in synchronized humping on the sand.

And that’d be Sir Elton himself going in for a quick grope of that nice lady’s swimsuit-clad ass. Remember, this was made back when Elton still publicly identified as bisexual. He’d marry Renate Blauel the following year and wouldn’t officially declare himself gay until after their divorce in 1988.  So… yeah, he’s groping some woman’s ass in this video.

You know what I said about how this stylistically echoes Duran Duran’s Mulcahy-directed “Rio” video? This is a shot that, save for the presence of Bruno in his studded underwear, would not be out of place in “Rio.”

Discussion topic: Would the “Rio” video—which routinely (and deservedly) pops up on lists of the greatest music videos of all time—have been made even better with the inclusion of Bruno and his studded underwear? I’m going to go ahead and say yes.

Hey, speaking of the Durans: David Buckley’s Elton: The Biography recounts how Elton met up with Duran Duran in Cannes in the middle of filming this video. Several martinis later, chaos ensued. Per Marcelo Anciano, Mulcahy’s assistant director (who would also later direct Arcadia’s excellent “Goodbye is Forever” video), here’s what went down:

“When we got there, Simon (Le Bon) went off with Elton for a chat and got him absolutely pissed—this was when Elton was a complete fiend. … The next time I saw Russell he said, ‘What the fuck did you do to Elton?’ Apparently Elton had come back from the bar and then proceeded to do these elaborate stripteases in front of the camera, rolling around on the floor naked, then running off, changing into the most outlandish costumes, coming back and doing another extraordinary striptease. All the time he was demanding that the camera continued to run on—and it was all Simon’s fault.”

And here’s Elton’s version of events: "I woke up the next morning and I had all these cuts and bruises all over me. I had destroyed one of the rooms and completely blacked out. Thank you, Duran Duran." He goes on to say, perhaps unnecessarily, "I can't really remember the rest of the video."

In the Russell Mulcahy episode of the series Music Video Exposed, Mulcahy says of the making of this video, “If you sit down with Elton, it’s more of an event.” Indeed.

The leg warmers really make the outfit, Bruno.

Crazy thing: This entire video was more or less a happy accident. Here’s Bruno again: “(Russell) told me he was making a spectacular video which would involve cars crashing through windows in the south of France... for Elton John. Oh, the glamour! We started filming but then a very expensive camera fell off Cannes pier. It was a disaster and threw a massive spanner in the works for the I’m Still Standing video.” Filming stopped for the day, and by the time it resumed, Mulcahy had scrapped his elaborate original plan (“cars crashing through windows”) and improvised the entire production.

“I’m Still Standing” reached number twelve on the Billboard chart and remains one of my all-time favorite songs (“Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid...”). Outstanding stuff.

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DKoren said…
Okay, I admit I've never heard this song before (or if I did back in the day, I don't remember it now), so this was a great introduction to a cool song and video. Yeah, I know... my pop culture experiences are sorely lacking. Speaks to the power of Duran Duran that they completely overrode my classical music upbringing (and parental objections) to dominate like nothing before or since!

I watched the video on youtube too, after I read your write up. Made me smile! That one shot could so be out of Rio! I do love Russell Mulcahy. But wow... the 80's. Leg warmers... the hair...
Morgan Richter said…
One of the things I love about the video is how in-your-face 1980s it is. The one-piece swimsuits and the big hair and the leg warmers... Awesome. Glad you got a chance to hear the song at last -- as I say in my review, it's one of my all-time favorites.
Cheryl Kraynak said…
I didn't remember Bruno had sort of the 'lead dancer' role in the video. Was nice to look at that again. Great summary!
Morgan Richter said…
I really only know Bruno from this video, but he certainly makes an impression in it. Fun performance.

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