'Duran Duran: Unstaged': Film Review

Duran Duran Unstaged Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Press Here Publicity

Duran Duran Unstaged Still - H 2014

A fine performance with a surface coat of Lynchian obfuscation

David Lynch shoots the 'Rio' boys

David Lynch has had some strange musical bedfellows over the years, but few of his partners seem more unlikely than Duran Duran, whose glamorous synth-rock falls nowhere on the spectrum between the ethereal dreaminess of his Twin Peaks mode or the industrial creepzone he has explored more recently. Paired with the aging-well '80s teen idols for an episode of the Unstaged series, he sees his job as that of an image magician, producing "a kind of live conjuring" of evocative pictures. In practice, the collaboration (shot in 2011 at the Mayan Theater for live YouTube streaming, now presented as a one-night-only theatrical event) may be the most prosaic thing Lynch has ever done, as much a footnote to his core creative output as that champagne bottle he designed a while back. The band's fans will likely make the Wednesday simulcast profitable, but only truly hardcore Lynchites need show up.

The concert itself is a fine gig for a band that has refused to become a period piece in the decades since "Hungry Like the Wolf." They were joined occasionally during the set by their current collaborator, guitarist/producer Mark Ronson, but more unexpected guests dropped by as well: My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way (whose deep red hair is the only bit of color in the grainy black-and-white image) added a nasal vocal to "Planet Earth"; star-struck Beth Ditto from Gossip, after nervously proclaiming "I can't wait to ruin your set," brought a nice tough-girl sass to "Notorious"; and Kelis reprised her guest spot on "The Man Who Stole a Leopard," off 2010's All You Need Is Now.

Doing live-switching duties while drawing from a well of pre-shot footage, Lynch's visual contributions will often be recognizable to those who've seen his art photos, and sometimes even evoke his movies: As "Planet Earth"'s lyrics are looking for "signs of life," Lynch offers a suburban house at night, with harsh spotlights shining on drawn shades, that might be hiding Blue Velvet-worthy nightmares.

But where that combination suggests a story, most are too obvious or literal to conjure much at all. A clock's hands turn on "All You Need Is Now"; "Hungry Like the Wolf" gets a black-and-white portrait of the eponymous animal. When Simon Le Bon breaks character between songs for a joke about making a dog drink, one breathes a sigh of relief that Lynch doesn't visualize the punchline. (Actually, that sick-joke image would fit perfectly with some of Lynch's more experimental side projects.)

Occasionally, fans of both artists will spot missed opportunities. Wouldn't "Girls on Film" be an excellent showcase for Lynch's smoky, creepy nudes, for instance? But the biggest fish that got away happens when the band brings out a string section. If this were a real joint effort instead of a hired-gun affair, maybe the director could have pulled in another old pal. What would Duran Duran sound like with orchestral backing arranged by Angelo Badalamenti...?

Production companies: Asymmetrical, Magus Entertainment

Director: David Lynch

Producers: Sabrina S. Sutherland, Andrew Kelly, Michael Goldfine, Blake W. Morrison, Wendy Laister

Executive producer: Joe Killian

Director of photography: Peter Deming

Editor: Noriko Miyakawa

Music: Duran Duran


No rating, 112 minutes

Sept. 5, 4:40 p.m. An earlier version of this review misidentified Mark Ronson as Mick Ronson. THR regrets the error.