Synopsis: Award-winning filmmakers Carolyn Brooks and David Gasperik take you behind the scenes, on the road, and on stage with Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor – also known as Duran Duran – Britain’s most popular rock group of the new generation.
Duran Duran: Three To Get Ready (US Fan Club version) 7.5
eyelights: its candid fly-on-the-wall quality.
eyesores: its inability to situate moments in time.
“We had to make it, in a way, because it was the album that everybody said Duran Duran would never make.” – Simon Le Bon
I actually don’t know much about Duran Duran’s history. When they hit their peak, I was a pre-teen and I was content with hearing the singles on the radio and watching the same videos over and over again for weeks on end; seeking out information on the band and reading up on them was the last thing on my mind.
For some reason, that has not changed over the years. Although I remain a fervent fan of Duran’s music, perhaps even more so than in my youth, I don’t much care about the details. I’ll always wonder what happened with Andy and, truth be told, up until recently, I had no idea why Roger had disappeared off the map.
I think that, after their break-up I only properly reconnected with Duran Duran upon the release of “Ordinary World” (although I had purchased ‘Liberty’ on cassette). By then, it had been too long to look back. Best thing was to just enjoy the moment and relive a few old ones from time to time; my devotion had its bounds.
I still remember when 1986’s ‘Notorious’ came out: I hadn’t expected it at all, but there it was sitting on the shelf of Abbey Road, my local record shop. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that there were just three of them on the cover. It felt alien… wrong, even. It wasn’t the image I had of Duran Duran.
Then I heard the first single, coincidentally called “Notorious”.
Look, I admit that, at that age, we experience many passing fazes and can be unusually fickle. Fact is, what I was hearing didn’t sound like Duran Duran to me. Despite Simon Le Bon’s vocals, the style seemed very different to me (it would take years for me to realize that Andy’s guitar was sorely missing).
It just didn’t do anything for me. Thankfully, I never saw the video at the time: I would have been dismayed to find that Duran Duran were no longer the pop-rock stars that I was so accustomed to. It feels cramped, and there is an unmistakable artsiness to the proceedings that would have alienated me even further.
I checked out. I may have heard “Notorious” a few more times on the radio or in the mall, but it wasn’t often. As for “Skin Trade” or “Meet El Presidente” (their subsequent singles), I don’t think I heard them until I picked up the album years later (I may have first heard “Skin Trade” on ‘Decade’, but I don’t know which came first).
Clearly, I wasn’t alone: ‘Notorious’ failed to ignite the charts the way its predecessors had and couldn’t manage to break the top 10 in both the US and the UK, two of their biggest markets. It would be the beginning of Duran Duran’s struggles, as they reshaped their sound, their image and tried to remain relevant.
‘Three To Get Ready’ is a black and white 1987 home video that documents Duran Duran’s lead-up to their upcoming ‘Strange Behaviour’ world tour. Officially released in a 29-minute version, the US fan club has also released an unofficial full-length version, which clocks in at a much healthier 75 minutes.
The film begins in Los Angeles, where our trio is in rehearsals for the tour. They’re now backed by a horn section as well as some background singers. This is our first time glimpse of future member Warren Cuccurullo, as John slips him a word during the rehearsals. We barely see him, but he’ll show up later.
Throughout the film, a lot of time is spent on these rehearsals, as they practice “American Science”, coaching the other musicians. At various points, Simon’s voice sounds totally off, as though he were struggling with it. There is no narration or interviews to shed light on the matter; this is very fly-on-the-wall.
There’s frustration to be seen, as things don’t always go as desired.. But John professes that he likes the new group, saying that they’re like a solo act, but with three people, in that they can bring in anyone they want that fits the bill. To me, it felt strange, empty, without the other two Taylors to balance the trio.
Also interesting is that I’ve actually never truly realized just how different Duran Duran’s sound (and their look) was comparatively, during this period. Watching them rehearse really brings it home: there’s less oomph without Andy’s rock guitar, and it’s a much more funk-based groove than anything they’d done before.
What’s also jaw-dropping is how their prior rock star allure is pretty much gone – there’s little flash or glamour. John doesn’t even try: he’s wearing sweaters and jeans most of the time. Simon sometimes dresses up, but he’s also frequently in casual attire. Although Nick wear jackets and ties, they look thrown on, as afterthoughts.
It could simply be a result of this behind-the-scenes look, of course. It’s quite possible that we would have seen the same thing in years prior, if the footage had been much more candid. Or maybe the group had had enough with the incessant posing and posturing and decided to be more relaxed about it. Who knows.
Almost to hit that point home, ‘Three To Get Ready’ (which is a really crappy title, by the way) also shows us the promotional grind that Duran has to go through to push their new music: promo pics, radio call-ins, photography sessions, signing LPs and posters, TV interviews. It all looks like tedious work.
I was impressed with John’s work ethic. Although it is said that he was massively addicted to cocaine and hash at the time, he seems to be the most focused of the bunch. In fact, he gets upset with Nick for starting late every day, feeling that half their time is wasted. Nick is naturally defensive but conciliatory.
Despite their efforts, we discover that the album isn’t doing as well as they’d hoped. John says that he’d rather be at #25 on the charts with “Skin Trade” than #1 with “The Wild Boys”, because he says it’s a much better song. To each’s own: I’ve always hated “Skin Trade” and can’t stand its inclusion everywhere.
(As a side-note, “Skin Trade” plays on the soundtrack at one point and it sounded to me as thought it was being mixed live. There’s no real reason to believe that they’d put a mixing board version instead of the album track, though. It could very well be that I have a poor copy of this film. But it did perk my ears up.)
Given how poor their sales are, the band discusses going on Joan Rivers’ talk show. John’s against it, but Nick calls a label rep and is told that they should. John says that they should at least not do interviews, worried about her angle, but they end up doing them anyway and perform “Meet El Presidente” and “Skin Trade” (albeit offscreen).
They also do a grueling middle-of-the-night shoot for a Japanese television show. It’s a live broadcast so, since they’re in North America, there’s a lot of waiting around – just so they could to perform a lip-synched version of “Notorious”. I don’t know why the show didn’t just pre-record to save everyone the headaches.
They also make a stab at Soul Train (seriously?), thinking that this might help their exposure. They have nothing to lose, they figure. Frankly, it smells of desperation. They do “Meet El Presidente” to a sparse floor with 20-30 people on it. God… watching Simon dance that white guy’s dance is depressing.
Simon and a distracted (which is pretty rude, in my opinion) interviewer discuss career longevity in rock, how it has been around for 30 years by then, and that Jagger has been there almost from the start. Le Bon says that they’re going to struggle the rest of their career because they’ve done the easy part. Ouch.
There are many shots of the three sitting in the back of a car as they’re being driven around from one engagement to the next. At one point they discuss U2 (whom Nick champions a little bit): John says they’re everything Duran isn’t. It sounded grim, not like a good thing. But that might be just my interpretation.
Watching this film, one question lodged in my brain: Was Duran Duran their own worst enemies, choosing the wrong genre to explore when they needed a sure-fire hit to re-establish themselves? Or was the problem a management issue, in that they parted ways with their old team and decided to self-manage?
Hard to say, but doubt has been sown in my mind. Perhaps, with the right support, they could have succeeded with ‘Notorious’. It is, after all, an excellent album, with at least four outstanding tracks (“Hold Me”, “Proposition”, “Vertigo”, “Winter Marches On”), that were forgotten even though they rank with their best ever.
The many meeting segments with the label boss made me wonder how misunderstood Duran was then. Actually, he sounded like a stuffy douche: ZERO charisma, interrupting them at every turn and name-dropping. They discussed self-managing and what their long-term plan is, with John being very involved.
At one point, Simon and Nick also meet with their lawyer about their legal entanglements with Andy Taylor – who apparently kept suing them (Simon even makes a sarcastic remarks to that effect). This is a very brief segment, but I wish we could have seen more of it; I’m very curious to know what was going on.
Before finally hitting the road, we saw the band members map out their tour dates, establish the rider (no fish, no “obscure” cheeses, …etc.). They also lost a background vocalist and had to hold auditions for a replacement, for which Simon was present. The joys of self-management, I suppose. More control, but more work.
‘Three To Get Ready’ ends with the road crew moving everything out of the rehearsal space, followed by the band going on the road, intercut with footage of them performing “Skin Trade” on stage (it’s not clear if it’s live or not as there are no shots of the audience). It looks so static, unexciting – but they really sound good.
Frankly, I’m very surprised that this was released. It shows Duran Duran adrift: the craziness is gone and the band appears on the wane; there’s absolutely no momentum. Of course, it was likely edited down to 29 minutes precisely for that reason, judiciously cutting all the sobering moments that are in the full-length version.
Still, I’m really glad that it’s out there. For me, it serves the purpose of filling in a gap in my understanding of Duran Duran’s history. I’m not saying that it isn’t disheartening to see them lose steam despite their efforts, but it helps to explain what ensued in the following years, eventually leading to ‘Liberty’.
My only issue with this film is that it isn’t chronological (as Simon’s ever-changing hair length indicates), nor are any scenes dated, making it very difficult to know what took place when. The film likely flows better this way, though, because I’m sure some moments in time are less interesting than others. But it’s a jumble.
While ‘Three To Get Ready’ is an important document for any fan of Duran Duran, it would likely be meaningless and perhaps even boring for anyone else; we aren’t given enough intimate access to the main players to care about them. Fans do, because they already have made the connections needed. But others don’t have that short-hand.
I’m not quite sure how much watchability this has in the long run, however, even for fans. As fascinating a document as it is, watching a band that you love dearly struggle and fade away is a hard pill to swallow. It’s not much fun. But it’s the next best thing to reading this particular chapter in an exhaustive biography on the band.
Plus which it’s shot in gorgeous black and white.
Date of viewing: June 30, 2014