Styles change, style doesn’t. So goes the distinctly media-age-savvy credo of the still unstoppable phenomenon that is Duran Duran. Originating as five pirate-blouse-donning glam-progeny out of the Birmingham New Romantic underground, they would eventually leave a trail of screaming, fainting girls in their wake.
A few decades later, of course, it’s not quite as much about getting the ladies’ panties twisting. But their Warhol-like ability to always keep a foot always planted in the zeitgeist has found them trotting out headline grabbing collaborators these last several years, including Timbaland and Mark Ronson.
The latest is David Lynch, who, with a generous purse from the AMEX, agreed to film the boys in concert at LA’s Mayan Theater in 2011 and then appropriately weird it up. The end result was screened Monday night to open MoMA’s The Contenders film series. The remaining four band members were on hand to introduce Duran Duran: Unstaged, and a still exquisitely cheek-boned John Taylor enlightened that the museum was a place they, “always looked to for inspiration.”
And challenging the staid format of concert films, Lynch overlaid on the performance a barrage of freaky (and vey Lynchian) images of fire, dancing dolls, toy planes and dreary suburban homes—which, interestingly, give the proceedings a strange but palpable sort of energy. Meaning, the experiment actually worked—it literally reinvents the genre. Taylor was quick to point out that Lynch, “got complete creative control.” Who would have guessed?
It’s quite the all-star affair, too, with Ronson, Kelis, an exuberant Beth Ditto—just slightly out-singing a silver-voiced Simon LeBon–and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way (as a sort of Nick Rhodes doppelganger) joining the band on stage at various intervals. The latter’s exhilarating turn on “Planet Earth” is a genuine highlight. In fact, it is four songs from Duran Duran’s eponymous debut album that explode off the screen most viscerally. Their version of obscure early gem “Friends Of Mine”, which seamlessly name-checks Brit gangster George Davis (who says machine-guns and puffy blouses don’t go together?) virtually steals the film. And the closing encore of “Girls on Film” still seethes with subversive sexuality.
Band and friends partied it up at UES hotspot East Pole after the screening, and it says something that plates of exquisitely realized vegetable creations were being passed around. Were this 1987, those silver platters might have looked rather, um, different. Still, the Laurent Perrier flowed like it was 1983 all over again.
Photo credit: Kristin Burns