Duranalysis: Do You Believe in Shame?
Just that lately I’ve been so damn lonely when I think of you…
At long last! More Duranalysis! My original plan was to start tackling the Notorious-era videos—“Skin Trade” and “Meet El Presidente” along with the title track—but… well, look, nothing really happens in any of those videos, which makes them highly resistant to any attempt at in-depth quality Duranalyzing (“And then Christy Turlington wanders around while looking really pretty some more…”). So I’m speeding ahead to “Do You Believe In Shame?” off of the Big Thing album.
The video to “Do You Believe in Shame?” was directed in 1989 by celebrated auteur Chen Kaige, who, four years later, would receive the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Farewell My Concubine. It’s a gorgeous, evocative, melancholy video—a suitable accompaniment to a gorgeous, melancholy song.
It’s also a familiar song: The official writing credits on “Do You Believe in Shame?” were adjusted after Duran Duran lost a legal challenge that claimed it was too musically similar to the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit “Susie Q”. Which… yes, that legal decision makes sense, because the basic melody of “Do You Believe in Shame?” is pretty much identical to the melody of “Susie Q”. Not that anybody thinks Duran Duran set out to commit a random burst of plagiarism, but still, it would’ve been nice if a light bulb had gone off over somebody’s head at some point in the recording process: “Oi, mates, I think we just wrote ‘Susie Q’!”
The video opens at a fancy auction in New York, where Nick is bidding on various high-priced tchotchkes: a golden snow globe, a pocket watch, a gumball machine. While the auction itself is bustling and chaotic, Nick is a vortex of elegance and calm composure, a white-suited wraith with flawless makeup and hair. I’m digging the smoky eyes and black lipstick, Nick.
We see a photograph of Nick nestling with a handsome young man, who is holding the golden snow globe.
On Duran Duran’s official website, when asked by a fan for the identity of the man standing with Nick in the photo, the band had this to say: “Simon wrote the lyric for the song about his friend Dave Miles, who tragically died of a drug overdose. The song was dedicated to him and the photograph Nick is holding is an image of Dave.” I’m assuming the questioner and answerer were communicating at cross purposes, however, as the opening shot of this video features another photo, one of a man who seems more likely to be Simon’s friend Dave.
The man standing with Nick remains unidentified, though my close friend Wikipedia seems to think he represents Nick’s recently-deceased mentor/friend Andy Warhol (the song is dedicated to Warhol and David Miles, as well as to the late producer Alex Sadkin). Seems plausible. We’ll go with that.
Later, Nick sits on the floor of a stark white apartment, adrift in a sea of melancholia. I know Simon’s the former drama major and John’s the one with the handful of film and TV credits, but somewhere along the line, after his painfully self-conscious performances in the first few Duran Duran videos, Nick gradually evolved into the most interesting actor of the bunch. Don’t believe me? Check out his Arcadia work, in which he develops fully-realized characters for each video: the genial yet malicious lord of the manor in “The Flame”, the beatific sprite in “Goodbye is Forever”, the slinky sophisticate in “Election Day”.
John, meanwhile, sits with a young girl dressed all in white, who blows out the candles on a birthday cake. John looks wan and pale and exhausted. For all his beauty and vibrant charisma, he sleepwalks his way through this video.
Next, John lights candles at a shrine in a cathedral and gazes up at a stained glass window depicting the Virgin Mary, while Nick lurks glamorously in a nearby pew. John, a lapsed Catholic with a lifelong interest in spirituality, is presumably seeking redemption for unspecified past sins, whereas Nick, an avowed atheist with a thirst for the baroque, is presumably scouting fresh design ideas for his home décor.
Simon watches in concern from the sidewalk as a blind man tries to cross a busy intersection, then smiles in relief when he makes it safely to the other side.
Oh, Simon. What’s the story with your hair, Simon? This is not good. In Andy’s absence, Simon has bravely (and, thankfully, temporarily) assumed the mantle of The Duran With Bad Hair. He’s wearing his mane in a long, dry, frizzy perm, reminiscent of the one made iconic by his close friend, late INXS frontman Michael Hutchence. For most of the video, Simon disguises his unfortunate coiffure either by jamming a hat over it or wrapping it up in a do-rag, neither of which do much to mitigate the awfulness.
The white-clad girl from earlier, whom we now see has an injured leg, tosses aside her crutches and hops her way up a long stone flight of stairs. Nicely done, kid! Full points for style, though you’re going to really wish you still had those crutches when it’s time to come back down.
Meanwhile, John gets hopelessly caught in a revolving door. This seems like the kind of thing that happened to John a lot during this era.
Simon tries to enter a row house, but breaks his key in the lock. While he’s sitting on the front steps with his broken key, looking glum and befuddled, a woman scurries up the stairs, unlocks the door, and slips inside before he can react. As the door swings shut on Simon, she shoots him a saucy grin.
There’s a theme in this video: People with physical incapacitations—the blind man, the girl with the crutches—manage to maneuver through life just fine, while the ones who are suffering from emotional damage—i.e. the Durans—keep floundering against barriers: Simon is now locked out of his apartment, and John never does figure out how to work that revolving door.
Simon takes the Roosevelt Island Tramway and drops a letter out the window, where it falls to the bustling streets of midtown Manhattan. Framed behind Simon’s head is the Ed Koch Bridge, aka the Queensboro Bridge, aka the 59th Street Bridge, and if you’re not lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy at the mere mention of the latter, then you need to start listening to more Simon and Garfunkel.
Nick packs up all the tchotchkes he purchased at the auction in a garbage bag and heads outside to stuff them in a trash can, in flagrant violation of New York City’s strict regulations against placing residential trash in a public bin.
Having completed his task, he spots a kid in a tux—possibly blind, possibly not—making his way down the sidewalk by feeling along the wall while carrying what looks like a magnum of champagne. Nick, who clearly feels a keen sense of affinity for anyone toting around a champagne bottle, smiles a sad, wistful, utterly terrifying closed-mouthed smile.
Please stop smiling, Nick.
Simon pirouettes along the Brooklyn waterfront. The Twin Towers are framed in the background, which, in retrospect, adds an extra gut-punch of melancholy to an already somber video.
Meanwhile, back in an all-white room—it looks like Nick’s apartment, though it’s now completely devoid of all furnishing—Simon, Nick and John loiter around, all sad and weary and glamorous, shooting each other meaningful glances through heavy-lidded eyes. Tiny, ethereal Nick sits cross-legged on the floor, looking like Taylor Momsen with Miley Cyrus’s haircut.
Over the closing chords of the song, they watch dominoes fall in the shape of a stylized question mark.
Beautiful video. Well done, boys. Go home and get some sleep, John.