The band made two versions of this video: one (for the 12" dance remix) "tastefully smutty" to cause a stir and get noticed in nightclubs, the other (for the 7" version) sensuous but relatively tame for safer venues (MTV hadn't launched when the video was made). We teenagers weaned on MTV saw the latter version, but though we were too young for the clubs, we were well aware of the former. Though Duran Duran came up through the late 70s postpunk scene in the UK, their first three albums and the attendant videos all seemed to hit the States at about the same time, and though the "tastefully smutty" GIRLS ON FILM clip was intended for adults-only venues, the sheer ubiquity of early Duran product being foisted on US fans meant that it was easy to find. I suspect most of my teenaged peers either borrowed an older sibling's copy or rented it from an unwary clerk at a video rental shop (which is how I eventually caught up with it). Everyone who grew up on Duran Duran knows both versions, which leads me to believe that there were other pre-teen or teen fans for whom seeing the video was something of a rite of passage. It was intended for nightclubs and pay TV networks like the nascent Playboy Channel, but since the band were for "young people with lots of energy" (per Simon LeBon's words), did they really expect we wouldn't seek it out?
Fig. 1 - "tastefully smutty"
After recently re-watching both versions of the video, I was struck less by the vintage erotica (lovingly itemized here) as by the intersecting levels of fantasy and reality. The long version of the clip begins with a minute of behind the scenes footage (with stagehands building the set, artists making up the band) mixed with footage of the band performing. We're taken back and forth between the preparation, the "performance", and the various erotic scenarios that unfold in front of the band. Flashbulbs pop off from cameras wielded both by photographers and actors playing photographers. The video often serves as a document of the making of itself, and the artful and efficient dismantling of the line between the levels of fantasy and reality suggest that directors Godley and Creme have perhaps absorbed some Jacques Rivette as well as Tinto Brass.
Fig. 2 - is the POV here real or fake?
To your proprietor's considerable surprise, this aspect of the video is even more sharply prevalent in the "safe", short version, which ends with a small debutante party unfolding in the ring before the band. As a masked gentleman stands unnervingly still, two glitzily dressed couples take the stage, dance to the final verse, then retire to the offstage area for cocktails, where one of the women forcefully kisses a t-shirt-and-jeans clad stagehand who's seen throughout both versions. A quick shot of the band breaks up the progression, but it's not enough to indicate a passage from video-time to real-time, and the effect is a startling crossover of onstage desire to the backstage realm. Though the artsmut of both versions is what they're remembered for, it's this surprisingly sophisticated ballet of lust and fantasy that gives the video its real oomph, and keeps the clip feeling fresh even thirty years after its making.
Coda - GIRLS ON FILM is neither the band's best video nor their sexiest, but it was the first video with which they reached out to catch the music video wave that they would ride to world wide fame. This early body of work played before my eyes at a time when I was just understanding what film could do, and just as Duran Duran's music suggested the weirder places that music could go, these videos (particularly the clips by Russell Mulcahy) helped form my understanding of how films were made. All told for now.