Friday, April 22, 2016

A Purple Movie in Black and White, or Thoughts on Prince in Under The Cherry Moon

Rock and roll movies are historically tricky.  It’s a general rule of thumb for the public that musicians can’t act, and vice versa.   No one went to see an Elvis movie for the plot.  Those line have blurred a bit since the 80’s with the introduction of music videos, and Prince was one of the first artists to take advantage with his big screen debut in Purple Rain (1984) and his second film, Under The Cherry Moon (1986).
Directed by Prince, Under the Cherry Moon was filmed in black and white.  The movie opens in a smoky Casablanca (1942)-inspired bar with a nice Art Deco font for the credits to set the mood and tone.  Prince is playing piano in a glittery headband and ruffled shirt, and his eyeliner and cheekbones dominate the screen.  It’s an 80’s version of the 40’s with shoulder pads and big hair. 
Prince plays Christopher, a gigolo/hustler/piano player who indulges in rose petal baths, buying out flower stands and somehow transcending race, sexuality and labels of gay or straight.  He’s Prince, the world’s greatest lover, and that’s all you need to know.  Is it any different than Elvis playing a racecar driver in Viva Las Vegas?  Though I’m certain Prince saw himself more as Valentino than Elvis in this movie, and in life.
Prince creates a fantasy world of elegant parties with footmen in wigs, white linen suits and random elephants, where he can gatecrash wearing backless silk jackets, matador pants and his signature Cuban heels.  Although he plays a piano player, the movie doesn’t showcase Prince’s musical talents, and focuses instead on his showmanship, and shaky comedic timing.  The movie only truly comes to life during the musical numbers, where Prince can do splits on pianos and showcase his signature moves and voice.
He falls love with heiress Kristen Scott Thomas in her first movie.  She is, regrettably, the only one in this movie who can act.  Prince doesn’t need to act; he’s playing his himself, a character and brand he crafted, decades before Lady Gaga. 
The movie was not a success, and currently holds a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Hip Hop was transforming the musical landscape at the time and would leave Prince far behind, and his vision of old-Hollywood glamour would soon be eclipsed by thug life and gold chains.  But he did get to star and direct in two more films, the live concert movie Sign O’ the Times (1987) and the sequel to Purple Rain, Graffiti Bridge (1990), in addition to writing the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989).

The world lost a little glamour yesterday, and he will be sorely missed.