I Want My MTV: The Wild Boys by Duran Duran - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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I Want My MTV: The Wild Boys by Duran Duran

They tried to tame you, looks like they'll try again.
When MTV launched on August 1st 1981, the most expensive music video made to date was for David Bowie's 1980 single Ashes to Ashes. Costing £250,000, the elaborate production was the exception and not the rule for the new promotional music video format. Most were still an afterthought, hastily produced on a shoestring with little artistic worth invested into them. It would be wrong to single out just one director who changed that, as there were indeed many, but Russell Mulcahy's contribution to the evolution of music video can not be understated.

Although MTV quickly became the name synonymous globally with music television, several television shows led the way prior to the cable channels launch. They included Video Concert Hall, launched on November 1st 1979, it was the first nationwide video music programming on American television, predating MTV by almost two years. Across the channel, the BBC's long running Top of the Pops often showcased music videos from international artists who were not available for a (mimed) live studio performance. A problem that was even more of a routine occurance down under in Australia.

In early 1974, former radio DJ Graham Webb launched a weekly teen-oriented TV music show which screened on Sydney's ATN-7 on Saturday mornings, eventually known as Sounds. In need of material for the show, Webb approached Seven newsroom staffer Russell Mulcahy and asked him to shoot some original footage and compile a music video (then known as a "film clip") to accompany the Harry Nilsson hit Everybody's Talkin', for which no original video was available. The success of his early efforts encouraged Mulcahy to quit his TV job and become a full-time director, making music videos for several popular Australian acts including Stylus, Marcia Hines, Hush and even AC/DC.

After relocating to the UK toward the end of the 1970s, Mulcahy co-founded the hugely successful enterprise MGMM (taken from the initials of its four founders; Mulcahy, Scott Millaney, Brian Grant and David Mallet - director of David Bowie's Ashes to Ashes promo), with the sole intention of producing innovative music videos. Under the MGMM banner, Mulcahy made successful promo films for several noted British pop acts, his early UK credits included XTC's 1979 hit Making Plans for Nigel and his landmark video clip for The Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star, which became the first music video played on MTV in 1981. That same year he first partnered with Duran Duran to film the striking video to their debut single, Planet Earth.
Mulcahy and Duran worked together a number of times across the next three years; most notably his videos to the tracks Hungry Like The Wolf and Rio giving the band golden MTV material and breaking them in the USA. Whilst filming the music video to The Reflex, Mulcahy revealed to singer Simon Le Bon that he had secured the screen rights to direct a full-length feature film based on the surreal and sexual 1971 novel The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead by William S. Burroughs. It was to be a pet project for Mulcahy, who had long admired the novel. Le Bon later explained how the opening lines - "The wild boys are calling, On their way back from the fire..." - came to him shortly after their conversation, but he was hesitant to share them with Mulcahy as he didn't want him to think the band were stealing his idea or to sour their friendship.

Fortunately Mulcahy thought nothing of the sort and encouraged the band to produce "a soundscape" for the film. Le Bon began writing some more lyrics and the band created a harsh-sounding instrumental backdrop for them. The band quickly developed the song The Wild Boys and, naturally, teamed with Mulcahy to bring it to the screen...

As mentioned earlier, when MTV launched the most expensive music video had cost £250,000. This was bested in 1983 by Michael Jackson's Thriller which had cost $1,000,000. Duran Duran's The Wild Boys would take that number and convert the dollar sign into UK pounds, spending a cool £1,000,000 on the promo. Approximately twice the cost of Thriller.

The production feels like a short movie, and indeed was shot on a proper movie set, taking up one entire end of the huge "007 Stage" at Pinewood Studios. A metal pyramid and a windmill was created over a deep enclosed pool, and a lifelike animatronic robotic face was produced, rivaling any practical effects work seen on the big screen. Add to that the dozens of elaborate costumes, prosthetics and makeup effects, intricate stunts and pyrotechnic effects, and then-cutting-edge computer graphics, and it's not hard to see where the money was spent.

The video featured all of the band members from Duran Duran imprisoned and in peril, wearing uncharacteristically rough and ragged outfits (quite reminiscent in design to the pieced-together clothing of the film Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior). The video echoes the sexual fetish depictions in Burrough's novel, with all five band members involved in twisted fantasy scenarios. John Taylor is seen strapped to the roof of a car suffering a psycho-torture with pictures of his childhood and early past; Nick Rhodes was caged with a pile of computer equipment; Roger Taylor was put in a hot-air balloon that was dangling from the ceiling, leaving him high off the ground; Andy Taylor was bound (guitar and all) to a ship's figurehead; and Simon Le Bon was strapped to a blade of the windmill, his head covered in water as the blade passed through the pool.
For years a story circulated that Le Bon nearly died whilst performing in this video. He denied it several times, but the choreographer of the dance routines, none other than ex-Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips, later confirmed what a close call it was...
“The windmill stopped when he was under the water and he couldn’t breathe. He was stuck there and they had to send divers in to rescue him. It was awful, waiting to see if he was OK. I’ll never forget it.
Mulcahy cut a four minute video for usual rotation and an extended seven minute version, primarily developed as a teaser for his full-length Burroughs film, demonstrating his vision to the movie studios he was wooing.With the hope being that Duran Duran would provide further material for the film, in the same way Queen had for Flash Gordon. Sadly, Mulcahy's feature length The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead was never made. But he did land the directors chair for the 1986 film Highlander. And, ironically, it was Queen he turned to for that soundscape.
As for Duran Duran, as well as securing another top 3 hit across the globe, The Wild Boys was named British Video of the Year at the 1985 Brit Awards and found itself in extremely heavy rotation on MTV. Like Mulcahy, they also turned to the big screen for their next project, recording the theme tune for the 1985 James Bond film A View To A Kill.

But that's a music video for another day.

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