I did something today that I haven’t done in years, and that is actually watch any version of the video for Girls on Film. I’m no prude, but I have always found watching the video for Girls on Film to be a rather uncomfortable way to spend four minutes. The less censored, the more uncomfortable I am, and I’m not ashamed to say it. It has never been one of my favorite Duran Duran videos, for all of the obvious reasons. I suppose that’s part of the reason I decided to write about it now – I wanted to get it out of the way and move on.
I don’t know if I’d use the word “trigger”, but I do remember what it was like that very first time I saw the entire uncensored version included on the VHS video album I owned. I think about it every single time I see the video. My mom was in the room with me, and I was far more concerned about her potential reaction, than my own. She said nothing, and of course now that I too am a parent, I recognize that she was waiting for me to “lead the way”. I don’t remember saying a damn thing, other than praying the seconds would rush past so we could move onto something else a little less risqué. Yeah, I was born and raised in America. Nakedness and sexuality wasn’t something we necessarily celebrated as a culture back in the early 80s, and certainly not with our moms in the same room!
I can remember cringing quite a bit, embarrassed that *my* band would have such a video, and I didn’t know what to say. I think I was probably about twelve by the time I had the VHS tape, and an awkward twelve at that. I wasn’t okay with my own body, much less someone else’s, and the whole video seemed just icky at best. After that, I really avoided watching it altogether. Keep in mind, I was very young, and obviously not ready for that kind of thing.
Funny though, because I’m pretty sure I had at least seen MTV before that, and I have to think I’d at least seen the tame version of GOF at some point. I have no memory of it, though. All I can remember was having in depth conversations about whether that lifeguard was really Simon (obviously not, and why on earth was this ever even up for debate?), and complaining because the band wasn’t in the video enough. That part still holds true, although the version I have included here has a reasonable amount of Simon with a particularly good shot of Roger, and I’ll get to that in a minute!
First off, here’s the video. This is the DAY version, which is the tamest of all the versions out there. I’d forgotten just how tame it was!
One thing I am finding that I enjoy about doing these Video Vanguards posts is that I force myself to sit down and actually watch the videos. Normally, when Amanda and I are hosting video parties, or I’m even watching Jason stream them on Twitch – I find that I’m only half paying attention. I’m too busy chatting, looking at Twitter, reading my phone, or something else, and I don’t pay full attention. In every video, there are scenes or little bits I’d forgotten. For example, in this video, I’d forgotten how little “skin” is actually shown. No nipples or ice cubes, no pillow fights, mud slinging, or women being hosed down. It’s tame, especially in 2021!
However there IS a great shot of Roger twirling his drum stick. I’ll take that any day. Who needs ice cubes on the nipple when you’re got Roger???? Moving on…
I don’t think anyone really needs me to sit down with each video and recount the scenes, which is great because it’s not happening. Instead, I want to talk about the videos place in the world, and within the Duran catalog. For Girls on Film, as the story goes – the Berrow brothers had come to America and seen that the major dance clubs had videos running on giant screens, and they thought that perhaps doing these videos would gain them a place or foothold in those clubs. Girls on Film was their first step into that world.
I didn’t come along into the club scene until 1988, when I turned 18. I have to say that the majority of the clubs I attended didn’t have large screens. They might have had smaller TV’s mounted in the corners of the rooms, or perhaps one larger projection-type screen pulled down over a single wall where they showed videos – and typically the videos had nothing at all to do with the music being played at the time (always did wonder about that). I also don’t remember the videos being risqué. I can remember B-movies sometimes being played – no sound, just the video – and I can remember that often times it would be strange, artsy type black and white videos, or sometimes even music videos (again, no audio, just the visual) being shown while other, entirely different songs played from the DJ booth. So while Duran Duran offered this explanation as to why they went the campy, uncensored route with Girls on Film, I must admit that I never fully bought their story, because no club I went to ever showed videos that way.
I spent far more time wondering why they took such a risk going this route, even when I was a kid. In my head at the time, I reasoned that the majority of their fan base were girls – young girls like me. We wanted to see the band, not some nearly naked women! It made no sense to me that the band was virtually making videos for themselves – this wasn’t how music videos were supposed to work, was it?
What I didn’t quite understand at the age of twelve, was that the video had come along before I had. Meaning, their fans didn’t start out to be young like me. I’m not sure I even knew what the Rum Runner was back then. I mean, that was a club. I didn’t discover dance clubs until 1988. That world seemed pretty foreign at the time. I’d venture to guess that the majority of their fans in 1978 to about 1981 came from that club and others like it in the UK. It wasn’t until a little later, as they started gaining interest and popularity in America, as well as having articles show up in teen magazines, that kids my age started paying attention, and then we sort of took over. By then, the video Girls on Film was already out there, making waves, which was exactly the point.
Personally, I think the Berrow brothers knew they needed to make a splash somehow, and doing a video like that—especially back when bands and record labels were just beginning to understand the full purpose of music videos—would get them some attention. Even if met with scorn, the point was to get people talking, which it did. MTV banning the video was exactly what the band needed. That kind of headline made the papers and magazines, the evening news, and definitely radio. If there’s one thing I know about teenagers and kids in general, if you tell them they can’t do or see something, that makes doing the exact opposite into a real goal. We would talk about that video at school, asking whether or not anyone had actually seen it. There was genuine discussion over whether one had seen one of the censored, edited versions or the “night” version, and how “bad” it might have been. Scandalous!!! 1980s America, there was nothing like it!! People wonder why I went into American Studies. Are you kidding?
Over the years, when the subject of Girls on Film has come up, there has always been at least one fan or another that has used the word “misogyny” when discussing the video. Listen, I get it. I’m female, and I’ve already admitted that the video makes me somewhat uncomfortable. It can be problematic for me say I love this band, and believe that they love us in return when I see a video like that. Yet, I do. The uncensored video can be categorized as soft pornography, and sure – it’s awkward. I don’t like seeing women being used in that way. Sometimes, I wonder if that was at least part of the point being made, or perhaps I’m really just giving them an out and making excuses. I’d like to think they were better than that, but 1980 was a different time. That doesn’t mean we should excuse the behavior, but I think like many things that have come back to haunt us over the years, we have to recognize that back then, times were indeed different. I’m not sure where that leaves me on the subject of misogyny, but I know I’m not ready to be judge and jury, either.
At the end of at least one of the versions of Girls on Film, there is a shot of the band holding up a banner that says something to the extent of “Some people will do anything to sell records”, and I’ve included it here. Surely the band had to know what they were up to, and they were all in on the big joke. The band has never been silent on the subject of their own goals – they wanted to be famous. They wanted to be the biggest band in the world (and they were). I don’t have a problem saying that Girls on Film certainly helped put them on that path.
While Girls on Film is not on my list of video favorites, it isn’t hard to see how it fits into the band’s history, and how it paved the way for so many other bands and artists.
Just as Manet’s painting, “Olympia” was the scandal of the 1986 Paris Salon, Girls on Film has its place in music video history. The painting is of a naked woman (“Olympia”) lazing on a bed while being brought flowers by a servant. In the most simplest of terms, the model (who is indeed a sex worker in her boudoir) stares directly into the eyes of the viewer, not averting her gaze, nor exuding shyness, but instead looks with righteous indignation. Shameless! It was considered an outrage – and not just because of the subject matter, but because the painting was created on a much larger canvas than what was normal for this genre. It was the talk of the Paris Salon. Girls on Film is similar, daring viewers to watch. Not only was the video supposedly created as club material, it was sent to MTV to be seen by potentially millions of households. They each pushed the envelope of what was acceptable, forcing the public to come to terms with sexuality.
Love it, hate it, or just plain uncomfortable by it, Girls On Film has a rightful place in the band’s video catalog.