Duranalysis: “Ordinary World”
Came in from a rainy Thursday on the avenue…
“Ordinary World” was the first single released off of Duran Duran’s 1992 self-titled album, which, because Duran Duran already had a self-titled album, is more often known as The Wedding Album. One self-titled album per band is plenty, even for Duran Duran. Here’s a splendid quote from Nick on the subject: “You know, it is NOT really called The Wedding Album, even though it is called The Wedding Album”. Thank you, Nick, that cleared the matter right up. Nick often speaks in Zen kōans peppered with bon mots, like a Vivienne Westwood-garbed Buddhist monk after a few glasses of champagne. Nick is, as always, the greatest.
The video, which was nominated for an MTV VMA in 1993 for Best Cinematography, was directed by artist Nick Egan, who also collaborated with the band on the videos for “White Lines”, “Perfect Day”, “All You Need Is Now”, and the recent “Pressure Off.” It’s a lovely video, filled with beautifully composed visuals; the only reason it’s taken me five years to get around to this Duranalysis is because it has only the barest bones of a narrative driving it. Here’s the storyline: A bride wanders around a sun-drenched garden while the band members look moody and beautiful in elegant suits. That’s pretty much it. That doesn’t give me all that much to Duranalyze, compared to, say, John is set upon by Caribbean zombies, who start tearing his clothes off, or Post-apocalyptic mutants capture the band members and force them to submit to various homoerotic bondage scenarios, or Simon blows stuff up while Andy flat-out murders Nick on the Eiffel Tower. Nevertheless, it’s an awfully nice video. Let’s see what I can do with it:
A bride and groom pose for photos in Pasadena’s Huntington Gardens, while the band members mill about the grounds. It’s a wedding reception, plainly. The bride is stunning; the groom is splendidly lanky and geeky, flashing a thoroughly charming braces-laden smile. If I were at this wedding reception, I’d gravitate toward him. He looks like fun.
Well, that’s one hell of a dress. The bride is wearing a strapless white satin gown, gathered in front with a preposterous meter-wide bow across the bosom, paired with an extraordinarily odd chapeau with doodads dangling from the brim. Of the dress, no less reputable a source than Paris Vogue once boldly proclaimed that “the bride embodies elegant Nineties bridal fashion.” I’ll take your word for it, Paris Vogue. Director Nick Egan claims he was inspired by a bow-laden Armani dress, adding, “The stylist who made the wedding dress has had more requests to re-create that dress than anything else she has ever done.”
Egan goes on to say he took inspiration for the bride’s strange headwear from Fellini’s Juliette of the Spirits, “…and not, as some surmised, from a lampshade.” Per Egan, the whole look of the video was inspired by Fellini, which makes sense; most of the time, the Durans seem to be living inside their own dazzlingly surreal Fellini film. Juliette of the Spirits features a wide variety of striking hats, all of which could easily double as lampshades.
The identity of the model playing the bride remains a mystery. Vague internet chatter gives her name as Virginia Anne Douglas, though I’ve found no reliable source to corroborate that. Someone once inquired about her identity through the “Ask Katy” feature on Duran Duran’s official website and received this verbatim reply: "THE BAND SAYS THEY ONLY REMEMBER THAT SHE WAS AN LOS ANGELES BASED MODEL AND THEY COULDN’T RECALL HER NAME. BUT THEY LOVED THE BOW ON HER DRESS!"
Okay, guys? Nick, John, Simon? I’m glad you loved the bow on her dress. That’s great. You’ve made a lot of videos; you’ve gone through a lot of models. I get it. I know you’re all extremely busy, and you can’t possibly be expected to remember the names of everyone who crosses your paths, but this is getting to be a disturbing trend. Remember how you couldn’t come up with the name of Marla Kay, the poor beleaguered model who starred in the “All She Wants Is” video, even though she’d undergone the grueling, elaborate, weeks-long process of shooting your video in stop motion one painstaking frame at a time? Maybe try a little harder to remember the names of the models who star in your videos, okay? Please? It’s a small thing, but it’d go a long way toward making you seem less like caddish wastrels.
The bride languidly strolls through the gardens, encountering various suit-clad Durans at strategic intervals. Ah, there’s Warren. Here’s the Wedding Album-era Duran lineup: Simon, John, Nick, Warren. In other words, it’s minus Andy, minus Roger, even minus Sterling Campbell, who joined the band on drums for the ill-fated Liberty album and drifted away shortly thereafter.
The sun-drenched garden footage is intercut with some nice performance footage of the band, which is impeccably shot with lighting that flickers dramatically from overexposure to pitch darkness, desaturating the colors in patches. It’s a cool effect.
Simon, you’re looking especially lovely in this video, what with your artfully shaggy hair and your visible eyeliner and your extra-soulful expressions. “Ordinary World” is part of what Simon calls his “trilogy of ghost songs” (“Do You Believe In Shame?” and “Out Of My Mind” round out the list), written while mourning the death of his close friend Dave Miles.
According to Duran Duran’s official website, Simon is fond of singing his own very special version of the lyrics: “And I don’t mind when you’re away, there’s a sordid-looking girl I can take from behind…” Catchy, right? You’ll have that stuck in your head for the rest of the day, and it’ll pop into your brain at sporadic intervals whenever you listen to the song from now until the end of time. No need to thank me.
While the bride wanders around the garden, the performance footage is projected onto screens interspersed throughout the grounds. No matter where she goes, she can’t escape the Durans. No one escapes the Durans.
Also projected on the screens are some of artist Dean Chamberlain’s light paintings, in which long film exposures and moving light sources are combined to create brilliantly colored glowing effects. I dig Chamberlain’s work (he directed the videos for the aforementioned “All She Wants Is” and Arcadia’s “Missing”), and I’m not just saying that because he once left a very entertaining and informative comment on this blog.
For someone at a wedding, John looks borderline funereal. Exquisitely lovely, sure, but funereal. Not that John ever really looks like he’s having a blast, exactly, but this era of Duran appears to have been rough on him. In the whole stretch of videos from “Do You Believe In Shame?” through “Perfect Day”, right up to the point where he left the band in 1997, he looks exhausted and burdened more often than not.
I’m not going to read too much into it. Part of it’s just his inherent nature. John Taylor will never be a merry sprite.
Speaking of sprites… Hi, Nick! Nick looks customarily stylish and elegant in a shiny silver suit over a dark turtleneck. I’d never refer to Nick as “merry”—a good ninety percent of the time, Nick looks positively murderous, like he’s trying to figure out if it’s possible to kill someone with a single sultry glower—but he always gives the impression of being supremely satisfied with the way he’s bent the world to his own exacting specifications. There’s a passage in John’s memoir where he describes Nick as “someone entirely settled at the center of his own universe”, which is a perfectly lovely and apt way of putting it.
In the gardens, the bride comes across Nick as he’s taking photographs of handsome tuxedo-clad wedding guests. He pauses long enough to adjust the bride’s ridiculous bow, then grins and does a happy little shoulder shimmy as she sails along the path, as though exposure to her preposterous and impenetrable couture gown has made him briefly giddy.
The Durans stride around the gardens together, all in formation. They’re still in their suits, though they’re barefoot now. Huh. What’s going on with the bare feet? It seems like it’s probably an obvious reference to someth… aw, crap, it’s a nod to Abbey Road, isn’t it? They’re doing the Beatles, except apparently they all wanted to be Paul. Nick did once describe the orchestration on “Ordinary World” as being “slightly Beatle-esque”, so I’m betting this is their (admittedly subtle) nod to that. The Beatles comparisons were kind of cutely obnoxious back in their Fab Five golden heyday, back when they were a bunch of very young twentysomethings with tons of screaming fans and more money and fame than they could handle, but they’re tougher to pull off here, in 1992, when they’re all grown adults with those days of extreme, all-encompassing fame more than half a decade behind them.
I could be reading the situation entirely wrong. Maybe the bare feet are symbolic of freedom (freedom from that aforementioned crazy level of fame?). Maybe their fancy shoes hurt after a long day of filming. Maybe they just wanted to stroll around barefoot for a while.
One final note on this video: Apparently some scenes were cut featuring a wedding band made up of a quartet of “older, sophisticated gentlemen”, who were supposed to represent a futuristic version of the band. As Nick Egan put it, “I don’t think the idea of the band members ending up playing at weddings was considered a successful end for Duran Duran, so it was cut.” No. No matter where the band’s future leads them, they’re never going to end up as a wedding band, cranking out endless versions of “Hungry Like the Wolf” at an endless series of receptions. Their world’s too extraordinary for that.