Purple Rain / Graffiti Bridge / Under the Cherry Moon
Warner Bros. // Unrated // $24.98 // October 4, 2016
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted October 21, 2016
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
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In 10 Words or Less
The late, great Prince's decidedly mixed film career

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Prince's music
Likes: Oddball movies
Dislikes: Talent run amok
Hates: Missed opportunities

The Story So Far...
Before passing far too soon in 2016, Prince starred in three films, serving as director on two of them, with the first outing, Purple Rain, being a genuine hit, both in theaters and in record stores, as the soundtrack was one of the best ever. His films have received a handful of home-video releases, and DVDTalk has reviews of Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge.

The Movies
It's far from a stretch to say that Prince was both talented and unusual. A non-conformist in most every way, his trademark unconventional manner--whether on-stage or off--often overshadowed the greatness of his music, even while he steadily produced an ever-evolving range of songs that were frequently beloved by critics and fans alike. His persona, a mix of mysterious and in-your-face, was a far better-known aspect of his life than anything else (at least amongst the general public), which is a shame considering the genius he left behind (even if not every album appealed to every one of his fans.)

The films he created over the six-year span between 1984 and 1990, are a very different story, with a remarkable debut, followed by flights of artistic fancy that were hamstrung by expectations and unfettered whimsy. Though each has its charms (odd or otherwise), it's hard to imagine why anyone would purchase either Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge without wanting to own his entire oevre. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's first look at where it all began, in the Minneapolis nightclub at the center of Purple Rain.

The first film in the Prince "trilogy", Purple Rain is the semi-biographical story of The Kid (Prince), a would-be rock star trying to make a name for himself with his band The Revolution (playing themselves.) Facing audience indifference to his unusual music and style, he has to fight for stage time with his rival Morris Day and his group The Time (a twisting of reality as Prince created the band, yet did share some strife with them.) Matters get more complicated when The Kid falls for Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), who arrives in Minnesota looking to become a performer, and is recruited to join Morris' new girl group.

To describe the film as melodramatic might be putting it lightly, as The Kid battles not only with The Time, but with his own bandmates (as he doesn't want to perform music written by Wendy and Lisa, his keyboardist and guitarist) as well as with his abusive father (Clarence Williams III). His combative homelife is the core of the film and Prince's character, providing him with motivation to succeed, as well as a roadmap for potential failure in his relationship with Apollonia. Played to the hilt, there's not a conflict that doesn't threaten to blow up The Kid's world, particularly toward the end, and Prince wears every bit of pain and struggle that he can, the epitome of the tortured artist.

Of course, all this plot is secondary to the film's tremendous music, which is ladled out in several stage performances by The Kid's band and The Time. But as good as the music is, it wouldn't be as interesting in this visual medium if it wasn't for the charisma of both Prince and Day. Prince, here, is a version that was seen less often outside of Purple Rain, a charming, often funny guy, who happened to be an electrifying performer, throwing every bit of energy he had into his stage presence. The film opens with "Let's Go Crazy" and doesn't let up very long from that point on, through to the climactic concert at the end, sometimes commenting on what's happening in the plot (like his underrated, if on-the-nose "Beautiful Ones") and other times serving to backdrop montages. Day, on the other hand, is a cocky, almost cartoonish peacock of a singer, offering the perfect villain to Prince's hero, and it's hard to imagine the film without him, as his performance is so perfectly formed. Together, aided by a soundtrack of incredibly music, they manage to overcome a storyline that's hardly revolutionary (sorry), and create a memorable experience.

You're forgiven if you want to stop there,, but there are two more films in the collection. After making Purple Rain, it seems like Prince wanted more control over his cinematic endeavors, and, after a false start with director Mary Lambert, Prince took over on Under the Cherry Moon, aided by future-Oscar-nominated cinematographer Michael Balhaus. Presented in black-and-white and set in France's high-society, it feels a lot like a period piece about the early 20th century, even as it features boomboxes and answering machines: a pair of American gigolos (Prince and Purple Rain's Jerome Benton) are dating rich women for their money, when Christopher (Prince) and Tricky (Benton) each set their sights on Mary (Kristin Scott-Thomas), a fellow American who they learn just received a $50 million trust fund.

The problem is, Mary will only receive the money if she marries Jonathan, a drip who works for her domineering father. But once she sees Christopher across a party, the sparks fly, and these two people from different worlds begin a war of words that cover their mutual attraction. There are some other side plots at play as well, including an older woman Christopher has interest in, but mainly it's the classic tale of a father trying to keep his daughter away from a guy he doesn't approve of. If it wasn't for the presence of Prince, who shares great chemistry with Benton, and the visuals, which emulate classic European cinema like Last Year at Marienbad, it would have been forgotten long ago, as the dialogue, from screenwriter Becky Johnston (The Prince of Tides), comes off as laughable at several points and the third act and ending are simply ridiculous. And this time, music can't save the day, with just a few featured songs, highlighted by the great "Kiss".

Apparently Prince wasn't satisfied with just directing, as he decided he wanted to write as well, which is how we wound up with Grafitti Bridge, which is a sort-of sequel to Purple Rain. The Kid now runs his own club, Glam Slam, while Morris Day has been taking over clubs across the city (a city that spans approximately two blocks, as the entire film was shot on an indoor set.) The Kid stands in the way of Morris' plans for a club monopoly, which leads Morris' group to firebomb Glam Slam (in the least destructive bombing ever) and destroy his instruments. The only way to settle the conflict: musical battles.

Grafitti Bridge isn't really much of a movie. It's really more like a string of music videos, including "Thieves in the Temple" and Tevin Campbell's popular "Round and Round", as well as a brief performance by George Clinton. There are points where songs will follow songs, without any of that unnecessary plot getting in the way, which is probably a good thing, since the plot is consistently obtuse, involving a possibly imaginary woman named Aura (Ingrid Chavez) and a whole lot of poetry. This film is Prince at the start of his New Power Generation era, and it's peak spiritual Prince, which doesn't equal comprehension (though it does equal an amazingly interesting wardrobe.)

The thing that stands out the most about this film is its look. There's an incredible artificiality to the entire affair, with a scene supposedly taking place at the titular bridge looking like the lowest-budget community theater ever (with the supposed stone on the bridge itself looking more like styrofoam). Made in 1990, it couldn't look more 90s, from the lighting to the clothes to...well, everything. The film even ends with a rap over the credits. Throw a couple of amphibians into the mix and it could have been another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even the most die-hard Prince fan would have a hard time defend this How Did This Get Made?-worthy mess (even if Day and Benton continue to be delightfully villainous).

The Discs
The three films arrive on a trio of Blu-ray discs (each with a different shade of purple), which are held in a appropriate opaque purple keepcase, which is inside a slipcase that repeats the cover art. The discs feature Warner Brothers's standard generic, static menus, with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English, 5.1 Dolby Digital French and German and 2.0 Dolby Digital Spanish on Purple Rain, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio English and 2.0 Dolby Digital German and Spanish on Under the Cherry Moon, and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio English and 2.0 Dolby Digital Spanish on Graffiti Bridge, while Purple Rain has English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH and Spanish (Castellano and Latino) subtitles, Under the Cherry Moon offers English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish (Castellano and Latino) and Swedish subtitles, and Grafitti Bridge has English SDH, French, German, German SDH and Spanish (Castellano and Latino) subtitles.

The Quality
All three films are presented with 1080p, 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfers. Purple Rain's origins (low budget, run and gun shooting, low-light settings) prevent it from ever reaching the kind of perfection cinephiles would expect from high-definition, but this new transfer is the best the film has ever looked, with warm, rich color and a less-dull image during darker scenes. The level of fine detail is good and the film's 80s-in-the-city authenticity is carried through, with a grain structure that feels real, yet not distracting. Under the Cherry Moon's black and white look (and gorgeous settings) comes off great on this release, with deep, solid blacks and good contrast, as well as impressive detail. If not for the modern elements (like, say, Prince) it could easily pass for a film from the past (that's been treated quite well over the years. Grafitti Bridge's colors come across as muted, which makes sense for the hazy look the film was attempting (possibly in part to cover up the fact it was all on sets), but the level of fine detail is good otherwise. The only item of concern here is the level of grain in some scenes, which approaches the look of noise it's so heavy. All three films look exceedingly clear, with no obvious issues with dirt or damage, nor any digital distractions.

Purple Rain is the only one of the three films to arrive with a full surround audio presentation, which may not be authentic to its theatrical presentation, but it does give the music a boost through the side and rear speakers, even it never feels as strong as you might want it to. Dialogue is mainly featured in the front channels, and is crisp and clear, with atmospheric effects heard in some scenes in the rear. Under the Cherry Moon is a far-less aggressive-sounding film, a fitting presentation for a film that's more intimate and less focused on music. All elements are properly prioritized in the mix, and dialogue is easily understood throughout, with the few musical numbers amping up the affair. Grafitti Bridge has a similar feel, though with more music it has more oomph, without sacrificing balance in the mix.

The Extras
Considering Prince's death this year, this release seemed like the perfect opportunity to add some retrospective or memorial extras to his films, but instead, the bonus features are just a rehash of the content previously available on DVD. Thanks to the acrimony between Prince and Warner Brothers, he never participated in any extras, and now he never will.

The majority of the extras are found on the Purple Rain disc, and they are all carried over from the previous DVD. Things kick off with a commentary courtesy of director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin. During a low-key affair with a surprising amount of dead air for a track with three people, the focus is on production details and info about the changes that occurred during the process, while Magnoli offers technical info and notes on the film's music. If you didn't know he went to film school, you won't forget it by the end of this commentary.

"First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty" (12:24) offers a peek at the nightclub where Prince started out, as well as the local music scene--known as the Minneapolis sound--he helped popularize. Members of the Revolution (including Wendy and Lisa, Bobby Z and Dr. Fink) and The Time (like Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam) are interviewed, along with plenty of locals active at the time, as they talk about what it was like to go to the club and the movie's effect.

The 29:45 "Purple Rain: Backstage Pass" delivers a solid overview of the creation of the film, through interviews with many of the people in the film, along with Magnoli and Cavallo, and MTV's Kurt Loder as well. All the major elements of the film are discussed, including--of most interest to Prince fans--how the film's signature songs were created.

"Riffs, Ruffles and a Revolution: The Impact and Influence of Purple Rain" (10:02) doesn't quite do what it should have, as it really should have spoken to more people actually influenced by the movie (musician Macy Gray is the only non-participant interviewed.) Instead it allows people in the film and from the Minneapolis scene at the time to discuss the fan reaction to the movie and its effect on fashion and Prince's tours. As a result, the comments feel more observational than experiential.

"MTV Premiere Party" (27:52) is an exercise in 80s awkwardness, as original VJ Mark Goodman fumbles his way through truly awful interviews with Eddie Murphy, Sheila E., Wendy and Lisa, Weird Al Yankovic, John Cougar Mellencamp, Joan Jett, Lionel Ritchie and Little Richard (in his religious phase). Music videos from Prince, trailers and footage from the film's premiere at the Chinese Theater are interspersed throughout, making it a real time capsule for any Prince fan, but embarrassing to traverse through (even if Murphy's take on Little Richard sort of saves the day.

Eight music videos wrap up the Purple Rain party, with five from Prince--"Let's Go Crazy" (4:06), a live version of "Take Me With U" (4:54), "When Doves Cry" (5:59), a lengthy live jam featuring "I Would Die 4 U"/"Baby I'm a Star" (17:54) and, of course, "Purple Rain" (7:06)--two by The Time--"Jungle Love" (3:28) and "The Bird" (3:50)--and, for completionists, "Sex Shooter" (4:41) by Apollonia 6, a mediocre story-based video. There's also the film's trailer to check out (1:27).

For the other two films, all you're getting are theatrical trailers (1:27 and 1:48). On their DVD releases, each movie was accompanied by a slate of music videos, but for some reason they were not carried over.

The Bottom Line
When approaching this collection, it's best to view it as a special edition of Purple Rain, with the other two films included as bonus features, because it's difficult to justify purchasing either of the other two (which are amazingly available separately), even if Prince fans may want to have them out of loyalty. Here's your chance to do so with a clear conscience. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers didn't use this chance to memorialize Prince, providing no new extras (and even omitting some from the previous DVDs.) At least the films look and sound solid.



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