Duranalysis: “All She Wants Is”
Know you’ve got to save some for the shoeshine boy…
“All She Wants Is” was the second single off of Duran Duran’s 1988 Big Thing album. The video was directed by acclaimed photographer Dean Chamberlain, who first became acquainted with the band through Nick’s then-girlfriend (now ex-wife) Julie Anne Rhodes, and who previously worked with Nick and Simon on Arcadia’s video for “Missing”*. As with “Missing”, “All She Wants Is” was created using a visual technique in which individual frames were exposed for long periods of time, which, when combined with a moving light source, enabled Chamberlain to “draw” on the film with light. To add an extra layer of difficulty, the video was then pieced together one frame at a time to create a stop motion effect.
*“Missing” is a gorgeous video. It won’t ever be Duranalyzed here, even though I’ve done prior analyses of three Arcadia videos, because it doesn’t feature any of the Durans anywhere in it. No Durans, no Duranalysis; that’s a hard and fast rule around these parts. Still, for fans of Chamberlain’s light painting technique, “Missing” is well worth watching.
Nick, Simon, and John sit at a dining table. It’s fancy: white tablecloth, multiple forks and spoons, balloon goblets filled with red wine. They’re noshing on fish. Just fish. Nothing bearing any resemblance to a side dish of any kind is in sight, which maybe makes all those soup spoons and salad forks a tad redundant. In the chair opposite them, a beautiful young woman slumps over the table, asleep or unconscious.
I’m not going to lie: The stop motion effect used in this video is an acquired taste, and I’m not sure I’ve acquired it yet. Stop motion is customarily used to make inanimate objects appear to move in a lifelike manner (think: claymation), but here, it’s meant to do exactly the opposite, i.e. make animate objects—Nick, John, Simon—appear unnatural and lifeless. It’s jarring and disconcerting. It’s supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to watch.
The young woman sits up, then stares at the camera while panting seductively, pantomiming the rhythmic female grunting and panting on the audio track. I appreciate “All She Wants Is” more now than I did twenty-seven years ago, but it’s never going to break into my top, say, fifty Duran Duran songs. All the panting and grunting on the track makes me feel claustrophobic and annoyed, like I’m trapped on a crowded subway train while some lady has a loud orgasm right next to me.
The action moves to a living room, where Nick sits at an old-fashioned typewriter, typing his merry way through reams of paper. He appears to be typing “ALL SHE WANTS IS”, over and over, like he’s starring in a glamorous musical version of The Shining. I can dig it. Were Nick a novelist, I imagine he’d be borderline homicidal and very dramatic.
John talks on the phone, while Simon’s big disembodied head peers in through the window. John juggles with balls of red light, which he hurls at the poor young woman before chucking an entire globe at her head. Nick, for his part, begins throwing wadded-up sheets of paper at her. He and John disappear through the window, taking Simon’s big head along with them. They’re bad houseguests, those Duran Duran boys.
They look… odd. For most of the remainder of this video, the roles of John, Simon, and Nick will be played by mannequins wearing latex masks modeled on their actual faces. The rationale behind this had less to do with artistic vision and more to do with reducing wear and tear on the Durans: The band members didn’t have the time or inclination to undergo the long, grueling hours it would take to film the complete video in stop motion, so they substituted mannequins in their places.
(There’s an amazing short clip on YouTube in which Simon and Nick hang out in a hotel room together while watching some of their old videos and dissolving into giddy hysterics. Here’s what Nick had to say about this mannequin business: "I had this idea, because we had to move things one frame at a time, it'd be much easier if we weren't there to actually do this." Simon, giggling almost too much to speak, cuts in: “Nick often comes up with these labor-saving ideas. ‘Oh, yes, let's have dummies in the video instead of us!’" It’s not clear where this footage originally comes from, but it’s charming and delightful.)
Alone in her house at last, the young woman answers the doorbell, only to have the doorknob turn into a grabby gloved hand. Angry red light seeps in around the door frame. In a burst of blinding red, the mannequin versions of the Durans reappear in her living room. Mannequin-Nick plays cat’s cradle with light, then shoots the light beam through Mannequin-Simon’s head; Mannequin-John catches the beam in a glass and pours it out to form a mirror. Apparently, this video took weeks to film. It’s not hard to see why, nor is it hard to see why the Durans were quick to embrace Nick’s labor-saving idea about using mannequins. For the poor female model, the filming process—one frame at a time, long exposures on each frame—must have been mind-numbingly tedious.
The young woman looks at herself in John’s mirror, captivated by her reflection. Considering her meaty role in a fairly high-profile music video, there’s a shocking lack of concrete information out there as to her identity. On the official Duran Duran website, the band members themselves, when grilled on the subject, could only summon up a hilariously vague and fuzzy idea that her name was maybe, possibly, something along the lines of Marla. A forum member on a Russian Duran Duran fansite claims the model’s full name is Marla Kay; while this claim is uncorroborated, it might well be accurate. There’s precious little information out there online on her, but I managed to scrounge up this tidbit: The first episode of MTV’s Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, which aired in 1985, features an appearance by a model named Marla Kay:
Pretty sure that’s her.
The young woman dances and strikes meditative poses against a background of cool blue. The angry red light—which signals the arrival of the Durans, obviously, but which also probably represents the (panting, grunting) passion that keeps wreaking havoc on her quiet life—oozes in once again and takes over everything. Next thing you know, she’s lying on her bed in a garish pink bedroom, beneath a terrible wall display of high-heeled shoes. She’s changed out of her virginal white dress and is now wearing a clingy hot pink number, her hair teased out into big curls. She writhes around on all fours and strikes provocative poses while the mannequin versions of the Durans hang out in her bedroom and impassively watch.
Oh, hey, the non-mannequin versions of Nick and John and Simon are back, thank goodness. This is not Nick’s most flattering hairstyle, really. He’ll tweak it slightly—shift the part off center, lengthen the bangs, add some fabulous smoky eyeshadow and black lipstick—for the “Do You Believe In Shame?” video, and it’ll look worlds better.
Simon’s hair, on the other hand, will not improve between this video and “Do You Believe In Shame?” They all still look gorgeous, but 1988 was universally a hard, hard year for hair, and Duran Duran did not escape unscathed.
The young woman investigates the contents of her refrigerator. It’s filled with Catholic accoutrements: grapes, fish, rosary beads, crucifixes, statuettes of the Virgin Mary, the usual. A crucifix flies toward her of its own volition. At a guess, I’m thinking this video is an exploration of the whole virgin/whore dichotomy: She’s trying to be chaste, but her sexual side keeps busting through.
The poorly-behaved Durans, who represent the “whore” side of the aforementioned dichotomy, obviously, pop up from behind her refrigerator door to taunt her and leer at her some more.
When next we see her, she’s only a light-drawn outline of her former self, which is consumed in flames until nothing remains but a pair of bright red lips against a black background.
While visually striking, it’s an awkward and faintly disconcerting video, so I’m going to end this on an awkward and faintly disconcerting note: On Duran Duran’s official website, it’s mentioned (in more than one place, actually) that this video won “an MTV award for innovation.” The Wikipedia entry for the song expands upon that a bit (“The clip won a 1988 MTV Video Music Award for innovation”), though it cites only Duran Duran’s website as a reference. I came across this bit of trivia multiple times in various places while researching this video; it’s even mentioned in Between Stillness and Motion: Film, Photography, Algorithms, a 2011 book by Eivind Røssaak.
I had no reason to doubt this statement. It sounds very plausible! Thanks to Chamberlain’s sophisticated techniques, “All She Wants Is” is an innovative video by any standard. As undisputed music video legends, the boys are no strangers to the Video Music Awards—hell, MTV gave Duran Duran a freaking Lifetime Achievement Award, for crying out loud. When writing a Duranalysis, though, I like to double-check my facts, so in the interests of completion, I double-checked this. Thoroughly.
Are you starting to sense where this might be going?
As it turns out, all available evidence suggests “All She Wants Is” didn’t win an MTV Video Music Award, in 1988 or in any other year*. MTV’s website maintains comprehensive archived records of past VMA winners, and Duran Duran had no wins or nominations in 1988 (or in 1989, which would make more sense, since this video was released in November and the awards ceremony was held in September). “Innovation” is not a VMA category, now or at any point in the past. The snippet on the band’s official website doesn’t specify the VMAs (“an MTV award” is pretty nebulous), but after doing a deep dive on this, I could find no record of MTV ever giving a special award for innovation to Duran Duran or anyone else. A search through the archives of MTV’s international branches didn’t help. MTV Europe didn’t have an awards show until 1994; MTV Asia didn’t have one until 2002.
I tried with this one, I really did, but it all came to naught. I searched the Los Angeles Times archives. I searched the New York Times archives. I searched through records of past winners of the Grammys and the AMAs. I watched grainy YouTube footage of the 1988 VMAs. Nada.
What does this mean? Not much. I could've easily missed something. Online records of events hailing from the pre-Web era are notoriously spotty, so it’s very likely the award exists, in some form or other (for example, it could’ve been an award given in a private setting instead of a fancy ceremony). I trust Duran Duran, more or less, by which I mean I trust the good folks who run Duran Duran’s official website. I don’t necessarily trust the Durans themselves—Simon and Nick, bless their beautiful and glamorous hearts, strike me as compulsive fabulists—but I remain convinced there’s a germ of truth buried somewhere within this story.
And if not? Hell, that’s even better. I sort of adore the idea that some member of Duran Duran—looking at you, Simon—might’ve invented a goddamned award out of thin air, and everyone just took his word for it. After all, it’d be a very Durannish thing to do.
*Edited to add on April 25, 2016: The award is 100% real! And yes, this video won it! So much for my quasi-scurrilous speculation. Huge thanks to the great Dean Chamberlain for telling the story behind this; for details, see his full comment below.