From the very first frame of “Duran Duran Unstaged,” it became clear to a theater packed for this one-night-only event that they were not in store for a traditional concert film. The film begins with an older gentleman whose hair is as tall as his voice is weird speaking in what can only be described as glib nonsense while the camera shakes violently. For the uninitiated, it seems like they walked into the wrong movie.
Then the man introduces himself. He is David Lynch, the enigmatic creator of “Twin Peaks” and “Eraserhead,” and as he puts it, the following presentation is not a concert film but an experiment. There are bound to be what he calls “happy accidents.” Oh boy, is he right.
“Duran Duran Unstaged” may not be the concert film fans of the prolific 1980s pop rock group wanted, but it is certainly what the band deserves. It could have easily rested on its laurels and produced a slick and sanitary show, playing hits like “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Girls On Film” and garnering deserved applause. The fact that it chose not to prove that despite its slew of hit songs, Duran Duran is not a safe band, even though it has earned the right to be.
Luckily for all involved, the risk of having an arguably deranged surrealist auteur take full reign of this film pays off tremendously. The marriage of Duran Duran’s infectious but secretly sinister music with Lynch’s “Inland Empire” aesthetic is not only a great combination in its own right, but it emphasizes how special each party is on their own. The audience was initially very put off by the fact that the high contrast black and white photography of their favorite band was being obscured by a projection of a man smashing hot dogs with a spatula, but as the film progressed, they were all completely on board.
What about that? Not only has David Lynch made Duran Duran look unquestionably cool in 2014, Duran Duran made David Lynch’s weirdest impulses seem palatable.
Do not think for a second that means this is not Lynch operating near his weirdest levels. Projections of deformed clay faces, naked Barbie dolls dancing in unison, and woodland creatures singing in harmony any time guest performer Kelis is on stage produce fits of genuine laughter that pair well with the rapturous joy Simon Le Bon and his crew are creating in the background. Also in true Lynch form, there is not a moment in the film that is not an epileptic’s worst nightmare. Even for the acclimated, nearly two hours of constant strobing began to become nauseating.
Yet despite being one of the most stylized concert films of all time, Lynch’s flourishes somehow manage not to be the star of the show. This concert still unquestionably belongs to Duran Duran, which proves have such dynamic range outside of its hits that it is bizarre to think they are not somehow even bigger. All the directorial panache in the world would mean nothing if the show at its heart was not an absolute knockout, which it is. This is a live performance that not only caters to the devoted but is guaranteed to convert those with even the faintest liking of Duran Duran.
Guest performances by Kelis, producer Mark Ronson, My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way and Gossip’s Beth Ditto add a cherry on top to this deliciously warped sundae. Special attention must be paid to Way’s hair, which is shown to be bright red while the rest of the film is projected in stark black and white. While color is often projected over this image, this lone moment of “Schindler’s List” style coloring is particularly striking.
This may have been a one-night event, but much of the concert is available on streaming services such as YouTube and Dailymotion courtesy of American Express, who produced the film. You can watch one of the more bizarre portions of the film here. Warning: IT IS REALLY, REALLY BIZARRE AND JUST A LITTLE NSFW.
Courtesy AZ State Press