NOW ON PARAMOUNT PLUS! Los Angeles is regarded as the cultural equivalent of cleavage, a city that revels in surface-level sensationalism. Tucked in that cleavage like a rare gem is Duran Duran, one of my favorite bands of all time. Was Duran Duran the Generation X version of Beatlemania? Lots of British Invasion similarities. They even brought new haircuts to the table as the mop tops did. However, unlike the Beatles, Duran Duran stayed together and has been making phenomenal albums for decades.
Their 1997 LP Medazzaland is a lost classic, as was 2004’s Astronaut, so they have paid their Union of the Snakes dues. So the rooftop concert next to Capitol Records captured in Duran Duran: A Hollywood High has that same reach for sunrise compared to the Beatles playing on the roof of Apple Records. That was the last time the Beatles played together, while this concert shows why Duran Duran has played together forever.
Directed by Gavin Elder, Vincent Adam Paul, and George Scott, the concert film opens with a documentary segment that puts the significance of the rooftop gig in perspective. We are then treated to a VIP-only performance by the “Electric Barbarella” boys themselves, on top of the old Aster Hotel with a perfect view of the iconic Capitol Records building. The set list features a selection of the band’s biggest hits mixed with new songs from their recent album, Future Past.
“…treated to a VIP-only performance by the ‘Electric Barbarella’ boys themselves, on top of the old Aster Hotel…”
The filmmakers kept the documentary footage and the concert separate segments. It is standard practice to cut back and forth between the two, which wouldn’t have worked here. There is an organic energy in each part that would have been shredded if not allowed to flow through uninterrupted. The band interviews also acted as the perfect ramp into the show, which was, again, not open to the public.
I love hearing British people’s interpretations of Los Angeles, which seem overwhelmingly positive. They first get hooked on the weather, but their outsider perspective allows them to appreciate sparkling aspects that most Yankees would gloss over. To them, Los Angeles showed the real America that hid behind New York’s rude impatience. The memories of their first impressions are charming, as is their reverence for the historical significance of their label, Capitol. The 15-minute lead-in is some of the best rock docs I have seen. This is definitely a team that could do the band justice in a feature-length portrait.
The band members also show surprising frankness by making their first political moves as a group. The material written for Future Past is deeply supportive of the Ukrainian war against the neo-Soviet invasion. The new songs are also revisiting the original core sound that made the group famous. As a fan, I liked the new stuff as it returned to the glowing new-wave coals that started the fire. Of course, the hits hit hardest, and Duran Duran sounds better than ever. Le Bon is a charming frontman who sings like an angel in a starship. Rhodes is still the ultimate keyboardist, sitting in his captain’s chair, steering said angelic starship with ease.
The cameras keep it lively, surfing on the laser waves of music. How they kept from falling off the roof is a mystery. Duran Duran: A Hollywood High takes what is essentially an industry showcase and turns it into a Generation X milestone. We ask ourselves, how bad can things really be when Duran Duran can still sound so good?
"…Duran Duran sounds better than ever."