Think of 80s music and first to my mind is Duran Duran. In the school yard it felt almost like a forerunner to the 90s Blur vs Oasis Brit Pop battle. Girls were either obsessed with Wham or Duran Duran. Decades later, I love both bands. But back then, I was a new wave Duranie through and through.
For me, their pounding beats were a fondly remembered part of my past, but this latest documentary shows a band very much in the now. This is not simply a nostalgia trip or a final swansong, and that is what makes the film all the more interesting.
As they told us years ago, ‘wild boys never lose it’. And 40-plus years on the band is proving their lyrics true. The release of A Hollywood High comes on a roll of recent creative achievements including the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year; headlining London’s Hyde Park; performing at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace; closing the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in their hometown of Birmingham; launching a global world tour and releasing their 15th studio album, Future Past.
Indeed, Future Past is a good way of describing the feel of watching this music documentary. For many who grew up listening to Duran Duran, songs on the film such as ‘Ordinary World’ and ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ bring a wave of nostalgia. The band’s distinctive sound means that even for lapsed fans, like myself, new songs like Invisible and Anniversary have a familiarity. If you haven’t followed them for a while Duran Duran are still the band you know and love, but there is a definite sense that they haven’t been and aren’t standing still. This is very much a band living in the now.
Unusually, the film has three directors: Gavin Elder, (David Gilmour: Live At Pompeii, Duran Duran: Five Years), Vincent Adam Paul (The Red Hot Chili Peppers Live from the Pyramids, American Music Spotlight) and George Scott (American Masters, Buddy Holly: Rave On). This reflects the range of the documentary that includes new interview material with the four remaining members: Simon le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, and Roger Taylor; unseen archival footage that includes former guitarist, Andy Taylor, and a full-length concert at the end.
The music is the focus of the interviews too, especially how the band conquered the US to lay their star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Each band member is interviewed individually, giving a more considered talking heads style than the banter of the group interview footage of their early days, which is still fun to watch. The recent footage with Nick Rhodes feels the most authentic, as if we are getting a genuine insight into his artistic relationship to music and the band.
For some fans the interview elements might feel a little short, but it’s as if the band is purposely leaving the audience wanting more. The interview and archive footage leads up to an intimate rooftop set of 12 tracks, old and new, filmed live at The Aster in Los Angeles with the iconic Capitol Records Tower (the band’s original record label home).
A Hollywood High is exactly that – another reminder why Duran Duran is one of the most successful bands of all time and why, if we have confined them to our past, it’s time to listen again.
Duran Duran: A Hollywood High is available on UK Digital Download from 6 November 2023.