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.


Mintycake said…
Yay! I absolutely love this song (and video) - it's the one that brought Duran Duran back into popularity after fading from sight a bit in the public eye. I also love this look on Simon....it's so very 90s but he pulls it off so well. The song also highlights how much of a contribution Warren made to the band.

John, well yes, John is looking moody and grumpy but if you read his bio and see what was happening in his life at the time you're bang on with your analysis - he was roughing it for sure and it shows. He's so much more happy and smiley these days (I saw them last week and they were fantastic but Nick was sadly missed). And after that concert I can tell you they'll never play weddings :)

Love the wedding dress also. Briefly considered this type of design (minus ridiculous bow) for my dress but then realized 1) it was a bit out of fashion for my 2007 wedding, 2) I am not the same body type as the model so it would look ridiculous and 3) long sleeves would be too hot at a summer wedding. Still I believe we played this song at my wedding (I can't exactly recall).

Thank you again for keeping this going! How about another Duran Film School? You could do Sugar Town with John in it. Hopefully it's better than Vegas City of Dreams (your review on that still cracks me up).
DKoren said…
The thing I liked most about this video was the Huntington Gardens, which was a staple of my youth. My family used to go there so often. And to see Duran Duran walking those paths that I've walked a hundred times! Nick in the Japanese garden. John in the cactus garden. That was cool. I'm just always sad that the gardens decided not to keep the moon bridge bright red, as that was always so striking and beautiful. It's still pretty, but... not faded natural wood is just striking or memorable in the same way.

I'd forgotten about that bow. Yowza! That is a serious bow. And the hat.

I have to admit I'm not fond of Simon's look here. Like him much better with the hair off his forehead.

Fun write-up!
Nonny Maus said…
I had a big crush on the lady in the video for "All She Wants Is" and was so happy to finally get her full name. I love that you love the band but aren't afraid to poke at them a bit when they deserve it. Also, (The) Caddish Wastrels is my new favourite band name.

That song parody link is a treasure. Once we had an on-the-spot butchering-- I mean, rendition--of "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise)" in our kitchen: "reach up for the good spice/put your hands in-to the endives/you can cook some pot pies", etc. (Incidentally, you'd think Weird Al would have done a full-on Duran parody by now. I think he just does them in his polka medleys.)

I'm not sure where, but I read somewhere (maybe a snippet from John's book?) that the bare feet was a nod to the end of the "Save a Prayer" video.
Morgan Richter said…
Mintycakes -- John almost seems like an entirely different person these days, doesn't he? Sobriety agrees with him. I saw him a few years back at a discussion he was giving about his memoir, and he was positively chipper. It seems like he's pretty happy with how his life has been going these days. And this would be a wonderful song to play at a wedding.

DKoren -- Oh, the Huntington Gardens! So pretty! I really like Simon's hair here, but I have a weak spot for shaggy nineties hair on guys.

Nonny -- The "Save a Prayer" nod would make complete sense with the bare feet. I like that explanation a whole lot. I mean, part of the reason why I love Duran Duran is because they're a bunch of caddish wastrels, but at the same time, I wish they'd pay a little more attention to remembering the names of the women in their videos. Love your "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise" parody!
Sarah said…
I love this analysis, this song and this video! I remember watching the video over and over (taped on VHS during some video countdown), back when it first came out. Even then, I knew that the wedding dress, with it's 90210-Brenda/Kelly-at-Spring-Dance-bow, would be dated firmly in the 90s, but I loved the look all the same. And I also appreciated Simon's shaggy 90s hair and eyeliner. To me, this was a much better look for him than the Big Thing long hair and leggings.

And you're right, I will now think of those alternate lyrics next time I hear this song!
Morgan Richter said…
Sarah -- it's such a nineties dress, but at the same time, it's fabulous. And I will always love shaggy nineties hairstyles. Much better than his Big Thing look!
iloveTool said…
Lovely analysis. I've never seen such an in depth analysis for this video before. I learned much from you I didn't know. I remember the first time I heard this song. It was a beautiful sunny day out just like the video. I was looking up at the trees blowing in the wind. It was 1993 and I was 7. I had the song in my head and I thought it was the weirdest song I'd ever heard. I'd never heard anything like it before. But I grew to love it. And the video is so beautiful I always wondered where it was shot and now I know thanks to you. I'm 30 now and hope so much that I can get married some day. My vision is like the video. I'd like an outdoor wedding. And a similar dress minus the bow lol I see myself wandering around all alone in the garden by myself thinking about what I'm about to dive into. I'm a very reflective daydreamer so the scenario fits
Morgan Richter said…
Thank you so much, iloveTool! I hope you someday have your outdoor wedding, wandering about in a garden in a long white gown (minus the freakishly large bow). It's a beautiful song, and a beautiful video.

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