Duran Duran: The Making of ‘Arena’

Duran Duran - The Making of ArenaSynopsis: A fascinating insight into the making of an extraordinary film featuring the team that made ‘Arena’.

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Duran Duran: The Making of ‘Arena’ 7.5

eyelights: the many interviews with the band members.
eyesores: the generic quality of the interviews.

Duran Duran’s ‘The Making of Arena’ was a 1985 home video companion piece to ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)‘. As the title suggests, it takes viewers behind the scene into the making of the band’s ambitious sci-fi/fantasy concert classic. Over the course of 48 minutes, and with the help of countless interviews and archival footage, one gets a look at what it took to make this project happen.

The band and the director discussed what their initial ideas were. Nick said that he wanted to push the boundaries of music video, saying that they had hit a peak with “Thriller“. Roger said that  he finds normal concert films boring, and thought this would be more exciting, while Andy talked about the limitations of the concept, saying that there’s only so much you can do with concert footage.

Simon talked about the process of batting ideas back and forth between the director, Russell Mulcahy, and the band (as seen in ‘Sing Blue Silver‘). Mulcahy noticed that, during the concerts, the crowd was watching the video screen above the stage a lot. He felt that the director had a lot of power over how the band is seen (via editing , …etc.), so he decided to use that aspect in ‘Arena’.

They wanted to add fantasy, surrealist elements to it. Nick discussed the style of the film, about needing to have a strong concept overall. They also talk about the ‘Barbarella‘ footage that they used, about how they’d wanted to do that for a while and how it made sense to bring in Milo O’Shea to reprise his role as Dr. Durand for ‘Arena’. Unfortunately, there is no interview with O’Shea.

Nick discussed the amount of cameras and footage that they had for ‘As the Lights Go Down‘. ‘The Making of Arena’ features footage from that film as well as behind-the-scenes footage in comparison with the final product. It’s amazing to see how disparate and underwhelming the separate elements are, compared to how it looks in the final film. It must have been tedious putting it together.

Unsurprisingly, the documentary mostly focuses on “The Wild Boys” segment. The Wild Boys is a William S. Burroughs book that Mulcahy had the rights to. He’d long had the idea to make a movie a motion picture out of it. So he took a part of it for “The Wild Boys” music video with the intention of using it as a sort of pilot/demo for the film. For reasons unknown, he never actually made the picture.

Simon talks about the genesis of “The Wild Boys”, but he never answers the question of which came first, the song or the video. He said that the windmill was his idea, as a metaphor for performing under pressure. Simon says that with “The Wild Boys” they wanted to do something more abstract, obscure, because it gives the result more life, more replay value – as people return to it to figure it out.

The documentary shows the making of the windmill sequence; it’s far less impressive than the final product (oh, the magic of editing!).  It also shows us the remote control head being worked on, and tried out, as well as the stuntmen doing the stiltwork in O’Shea’s place. It was very dangerous, and the guy broke his ankle during a key scene. Heck, I didn’t even realize that it was supposed to be Dr. Durand!

The make-up process was lengthy: it usually took all morning and then they would shoot in the afternoon. Roger comments about how little actual filming takes place in any given day – how much waiting around one does. Nick also had wardrobe problems and he ended up having to remake his own costume himself so that it would match the others in the band (is this how one treats pop royalty?).

The documentary quickly shows the making of the other sequences, but only very briefly – as after thoughts, really. It’s hardly surprising, but disappointing nonetheless. What’s curious is that John doesn’t appear much at all. Was he too busy? Or did he just not want to be a part of the project? I could easily have imagined Roger taking a powder. But John? I wonder what happened there…

In the end, Simon says that ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’ turned out very differently from what he’d initially envisioned. But, diplomatically, he added that he finds it special and that he’s proud of it. As for Roger, he said that it’s much more than he had ever expected. As for this documentary, it’s pretty much all that you could expect for something of this ilk – it’s not ground-breaking, but it’s interesting enough.

In 2004, the documentary was released as a bonus feature on the ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’ DVD, along with its own menu and corresponding chapters. The disc, which was housed in a collectible cardboard box (that came enclosed in transparent plastic sleeve) also included a number of other special features that were not available on the original home video releases:

Arena TV Ad: This is a 40-second montage of highlights that was used as a television spot for the release of the companion album. There’s really not that much to it. 6.0

Arena The Video Mix: This is a 6-minute medley of Duran Duran studio tracks played to footage from the film ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’. It’s nothing more than a jumble of images, but the mix itself isn’t bad, if abruptly edited. Besides the footage, the title ‘Arena The Video Mix’ flashes on the screen from time to time, and the video ends with the proper ‘Arena’ title. I guess this must have been conceived as a promo for the film on music video channels. 7.0 for the mix, 6.5 for the video

Save a Prayer – Live: Released as the second single from ‘Arena’, after “The Wild Boys”, this 4-minute live video features the same footage as in ‘As the Lights Go Down’ and ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’. I love this song, one of my all-time favourite by the band, but I feel like it’s lacking something in this live rendition – perhaps because it’s missing about 90 seconds to it. 7.5

Simon Le Bon interview: At three-and-a-half minutes, this is anything but substantial stuff. Simon is sitting on a busy, noisy set, talking about Duran Duran purposely trying to be innovative when they first started, using videos in a new way – adding that they don’t write the music for the video, as some bands do. He recycled an example that was used in ‘The Making of Arena’ about making their videos literal – writing “the girl walks out of the room” and that’s what you see in the video. This suggests that the band had rehearsed talking points (which is hardly surprising, but is nonetheless disappointing). He also discussed the influence of the Sex Pistols, about the DIY message that anyone can make music – you don’t need the whole machine behind you. That’s it. But what more could you cram in less than four minutes? 6.5

On top of those extras, the DVD comes with a sticker sheet of the band members and other photos from the film, as well as a folded reproduction of the poster for the film . It’s a really good package overall. While the ‘Making Of’ is probably only worth a gander by fans or the infinitely curious, as a combo with ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’, it’s key  viewing material for anyone interested in the band.

And, for fans and collectors, it’s indispensable.

Date of viewing: April 21, 2014

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