We lost another one, last week. It seems to be the ones that we think are immortal that 2016 is taking.
This time, of course, it was Prince. So many words have been written about his music and his life that I’m not going to do that. Partly because of that, but also because I’m a very recent convert. You see, I was never a fan growing up. I don’t know why. I just wasn’t. I’ve always liked When Doves Cry, but really that was it. I always liked the Hindu Love Gods’ version of Raspberry Beret more than the original.
Sorry. That’s just how it was.
But I think I’ve come around. I was starting to check his stuff out not too long ago and then this happened. His death didn’t hit me the way David Bowie’s did, but it made me sadder than I thought it would.
Not being a fan before now means that I’ve never seen any of his movies. So THAT’S what I’m going to focus on this Monday. The cinematic legacy of Prince, as seen through the eyes of someone seeing that legacy for the first time.
Of course, that means that I’m not seeing these movies through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.
Bear that in mind.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
PURPLE RAIN (1984)
Directed by Albert Magnoli
Written by Albert Magnoli/William Blinn
This is the story of The Kid (Prince), a young glam rock/R&B artist whose just trying to make it at the biggest club in Minneapolis, which is run by Morris Day and his band, The Time. When Apollonia shows up, his world gets turned upside-down. She wants to make it, too. Will it be Morris or The Kid who helps her get what she wants? And will The Kid get what he wants? Will his bandmates ever get one of their songs in the set? How much abuse can his mother take from his father? It just seems like everything is happening to The Kid all at once.
The first problem I had with this movie is that there is NO WAY that I will ever believe that Prince lives with his parents. Just like I will never believe that he ever worked at a five and dime. If you told me that he lived on Venus and worked at a love factory, I would believe that. But this downtrodden, normal life? Nope. Just not buyin’ it. Especially since he has incredibly expensive looking clothes, and extravagant stage show and a killer bike. Why is he still living with his abusive parents who hardly even seem to notice when he’s there?
The second thing I noticed was that no one can act. No one. Everyone is overwrought with emotion in every scene. Even the happy, silly scenes seem forced. (Oh man, that Abbott & Costello routine between Morris and his lackey.) And the chemistry just isn’t there for anyone. The Kid and Apollonia don’t really seem like they’re in love. They just seem to be going through the histrionic motions of something nearing a relationship. And, seriously… there’s one point where there’s just NO going back for The Kid. He ruins it and Apollonia should NEVER go back to him. Ever.
But there’s still something really compelling about this movie, and that something is the music. That’s why everyone loves this movie so much. It’s not the dark plot that includes spousal abuse and Morris Day really about to drunkenly rape Apollonia. ALL of the music is great. There’s not one misstep in that department. Not even the Apollonia 6 song. It’s all fun, sexy, emotional, great, passionate music that makes everything else just kind of get a pass. And that performance of the title song just blows everything else out of the water.
There’s also Prince showing his silly side which, honestly, I never knew he had. He had some genuinely funny moments. Much funnier than Morris, who was just kind of an ass throughout the film.
I wouldn’t say “Don’t watch Purple Rain.” Not at all. It’s a decent enough flick. But be ready for some cringeworthy bits. I wouldn’t be too upset with you if you just fast forwarded through all of the talking parts and only watched the music. And maybe any scene with Apollonia. She was beautiful.
UNDER THE CHERRY MOON (1986)
Directed by Prince/Michael Ballhaus
Written by Becky Johnston
Shot in fairly stark black and white, Under The Cherry Moon is the story of Christopher Tracy and Tricky (Prince and Jerome Benton), two dirty, rotten scoundrels who date/marry old women for their money. When they meet Mary (Kristin Scott Thomas), she turns Christopher’s world inside out. She’s a spoiled little rich girl whose father is…a gangster? A businessman? Someone with power? I honestly have no idea.
Of course, he’s in love with her when she strips naked at her birthday party to shock everyone. Of course, she’s attracted to him right away. Of course, she hates him not long after they actually meet. Of course, she falls more in love with him as the movie goes on.
The time on this movie says that it’s an hour and thirty-nine minutes long, but I’m pretty sure it was more like eighteen hours. The comedy falls flat (“Wrecka Stoh”? Really?), the drama is just silly and, while there’s music throughout the film, there are no true performances in it. Which means that they took away the one thing that truly brings people into a Prince movie. Seriously, no one goes to see him act.
And, for someone who has so much sexual charisma, he never has ANY chemistry with his actresses. Throughout the movie, I kept wondering if he and Kristen were even in the same movie. And the sex scenes…let’s just not talk about those.
Under The Cherry Moon is dry, slow, boring and not saved by some great music. And it’s PG-13. How does a person like Prince make a PG-13 movie? By scaling himself back. WAY back.
Yeah. No way would I ever recommend this movie to anyone. With Purple Rain, I could at least say that his musical performances were amazing and there was some kitsch factor to the rest of the movie. This one doesn’t have anything going for it.
GRAFFITI BRIDGE (1990)
Written and Directed by Prince
Well, at least he’s performing again.
Minneapolis is a weird place. Not only does it produce musicians like Prince and Morris Day, but it apparently has the most cartoonish clubs this side of Toon Town.
The Kid and Morris are up to their old tricks again, in this “unofficial” sequel to Purple Rain. (I really don’t know what makes it “unofficial.” The only important person from the first one who isn’t here is Apollonia and, by 1990, Prince could do pretty much whatever he wanted, including make a sequel to a movie he made.)
This time, though, Prince brought some other friends along. George Clinton and Mavis Staples play other club owners who are somehow all under Morris’s thumb. The Kid owns his own club…but only half. So Morris is trying to tell him what kind of music to play. The Kid wants to do gospel/pop/R&B. Something like that. But Morris knows that that won’t make him any money.
Man, I don’t know. Everybody’s fighting over their clubs and the music. Prince/The Kid has apparently gone Christian. And there’s an angel named Aura (Ingrid Chavez) who both Kid and Morris want to schtup. (Morris in a devilish way, Kid in a sexy Christian way.)
If you know anything about Christian mythology, you know where this is going. Especially after Aura says, “There’s still good in Morris. I know I can bring it out.”
Graffiti Bridge is not a good film. No way, no how. But it’s a damn sight better than Under The Cherry Moon and it’s not supposed to be as realistic as Purple Rain, so the bad acting and silly musical numbers sort of work, here.
The problem is that the music isn’t nearly as good. The late 80s were kind of a terrible time for music. The cool experimentation with synths was over and now people were just throwing it in everywhere. The Jimmy Jam/New Jack Swing style had taken over EVERYONE. And Prince fell victim. (In fact, Jimmy Jam and Terry Stewart were members of The Time and are in the film.) While the style works for some folks (most of the Jacksons), it really doesn’t sit too well with Prince. It makes him pretty generic, actually. I can’t say that, after having just finished this movie, I actually remember a single song from it.
There’s also the fact that Prince was trying to dance like Michael Jackson. He’s got moves, definitely. But the whole “street dance” thing doesn’t work so well for him. He’s amazing on stage. In the street, not so much.
That’s not even getting into a slightly incoherent script (Madonna called it “a piece of shit” when the part of Aura was offered to her), wooden acting (as always) and a set that looks like it might have worked really well in a high school musical.
So, I guess this is why people aren’t really talking about Prince’s cinematic legacy: it’s pretty slipshod. Really, only one out of the three films is worth repeat viewing, and that only in bits.
I will never take anything away from the man’s talent as a musician, songwriter or stage persona.
Or even as a sexual magnet.
By all means, listen to the soundtrack for Purple Rain, or Sign O The Times, or 1999, or Dirty Mind over and over and over again. Totally worth it.
Sadly, you might want to skip two and a half out of three of his movies.