The late, great Prince's decidedly mixed film career
The Story So Far...
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.
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.
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".
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).
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 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