Fatale Electric – Ellen von Unwerth

Director, photographer, and fashion model Ellen von Unwerth has been a key contributor to the Duran Duran story starting with the Liberty artwork in 1990. Her work as director on the “Electric Barbarella” video might have caused some ripples but the video is undeniably beautiful with an intoxicating use of color. While some might find the entire premise of the video steeped in toxic masculinity, the same could be said of “Girls On Film”. While intent is a slippery concept to nail down, I always found both videos clever in how they dismantle the power of the male gaze. In both videos, the male protagonists are either left unsatisfied – or dead.

When Duran Duran experienced a resurgence with the wedding album, MTV was less entwined in my daily routine and YouTube was still on the horizon. I caught enough of the music channel to see the hit singles plenty of times and I found “Too Much Information” a brilliant clip even if it faded off the radar fairly quickly. I’m faintly aware of “Breath After Breath” having a video and, after watching it tonight, faintly aware is all I need to be of it’s existence. Never a fan of the song, the video gives off some Rusted Root “Send Me On My Way” vibes and it never jelled with my taste.

Digging a little deeper, however, I realized that I had never watched the video for “Femme Fatale”. Hard to believe that the Daily Duranie intern hasn’t seen all the videos, right? I think there is one other I haven’t watched entirely yet but I’ll save that for another day. Directed by von Unwerth, I was instantly entranced by the video for “Femme Fatale” and I actually found myself a lot more excited about how that cover came off. The Velvet Underground are so unique in what they did and how they presented it that I’m typically cynical of any attempts to cover. Hell, half of my Velvet Rebel moniker was inspired by the band so I have strong feelings on them.

Watching the video, however, I think von Unwerth’s own artistic style perfectly suits The Velvet Underground’s music and she situates Duran Duran within that context quite beautifully. The opening shots of the band driving are reminiscent of “The Chauffeur” but now the band is on their own. Do I over analyze the fact that Nick and Warren are riding in the back while Simon takes shotgun to John? Probably but that did seem to be how the band was situated at the time with their relationships.

Having photographed model Nine Brosh (see cover photo of this post), I assume that von Unwerth handled the casting of Brosh as the femme fatale and what a perfect decision it is. She manages to be both playful and mysterious in equal doses. At the end of the video, the way she tosses rose petals down on the lads reminds of what Sam Mendes later did in the film American Beauty. Is Brosh gleefully spreading the roses on the dead members of Duran Duran or are they merely asleep after such an intoxicating party? I guess we will never know but just like she arrived, the femme fatale fades back into the steamy streets of New York City and disappears into the night.

Knowing how fond Nick was of Andy Warhol, the decision to cover “Femme Fatale” makes perfect sense. Written about Edie Sedgwick, it is only one of many songs she inspired such as Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” and “Just Like A Woman”, The Cult’s “Edie (Ciao Baby)”, and one of my favorite songs ever, an album-track on Edie Brickell & the New Bohemian’s debut album titled “Little Miss S”. Having starred in several Warhol films, I’m guessing Nick had some admiration or fascination for Sedgwick which perhaps inspired the choice of song. Again, I’m just trying to connect dots and maybe none of them connect in the way I just imagined. Regardless, as a director and photographer, Ellen von Unwerth has brought some amazing visuals to Duran Duran’s story and I will be watching “Femme Fatale” a few more times tonight.

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