There will never be another like Prince Rogers Nelson.
A lot was said about the musician’s musical prowess after his untimely death a year ago. And rightfully so. Dude was a musical genius.
There is no debate about Prince’s musical influence. However, he deserves the same type of accolades when it comes to what he contributed to the world cinematically.
His filmography wasn’t loaded with titles. But the few films he produced and released were under appreciated jewels that often broke new ground and presented a celluloid swag never before seen on the big screen with the exception of the poorly executed and ill-conceived “Graffiti Bridge” which didn’t work but at least has a couple of moments of guilty pleasure.
Best known for “Purple Rain,” Prince released the movie in 1984 and became an instant superstar. It was a musical celebration of rebellion and ushered in a new genre dubbed ‘the Minneapolis sound.’ The movie occupied the top of the box office at the same time Prince was sitting on top of the singles and album charts.
THAT AIN’T LAKE MINNETONKA
Basically, “Purple Rain” was concert footage intercut with a semi-autobiographical story, but it was brilliantly done. Sexy, energetic and seductive, the film gave birth to a new aesthetic of cool. Nearly every song from the groundbreaking soundtrack is performed in the movie and Prince was at his explosive best. It was a dizzying display of musicianship combined with an erotic stage presence that produced electric results.
The entire project was brazenly spearheaded by Prince. Not yet a music heavyweight, he starred in the movie, and urged the producers and studio (Warner Bros.) to shoot the entire film in of all places, his hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota and in the dead of winter.
He loaded the cast with band members, label mates, associates and friends all of whom had zero acting experience. The only professional actor in the entire cast was Clarence Williams III who portrayed Prince’s father in the movie.
It didn’t matter.
The movie was a mega hit, made for $7 million, “Purple Rain” grossed more than $68 million domestically, and propelled Prince to superstardom. He also won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score and two Grammys for “Purple Rain.”
Next up was “Under the Cherry Moon” released in 1986 and starred an old school Hollywood inspired Prince, Kristin Scott Thomas in her motion picture debut well before “The English Patient” and Jerome “Tricky” Benton whose comedic timing with Prince was razor-sharp and produced priceless chemistry. The two of them verbal jousting throughout the entire movie is a joy to watch.
Prince jetted to the French Riviera and proceeded to shoot a romantic film in black and white about gigolo best friends looking for love. Well, it wasn’t actually shot in black and white. It was actually shot in color but released in black and white. However, this French inspired romantic comedy is stunningly beautiful. The opening scene is quite breathtaking, with a sweeping aerial shot of the French Mediterranean. It’s actually one of the best opening shots of any movie ever made.
This follow-up in many ways was an even more audacious project than “Purple Rain.” However creative differences plagued the production in the early stages resulting in Prince taking over as the film’s director (his directing debut.) That’s usually not a good thing when the initial director quits. Nonetheless, Prince had a specific vision and despite his lack of experience as a film director actually produced an engaging and entertaining movie.
The only resemblance “Under the Cherry Moon” had to “Purple Rain” was Prince’s enormous on-screen charisma and another masterful soundtrack that accompanied the movie. The soundtrack is regarded by many to actually be better than “Purple Rain.” It was Prince’s eighth studio album and the final to feature his backing band The Revolution. It was boisterously funky and wickedly soulful with elements of French mixings thrown in for good measure. Though the Revolution do not appear in the actual film, their appearance in the video for “Mountains” closes out the film.
Although “Under the Cherry Moon” didn’t deliver the same box office results as his previous effort, the movie nevertheless stands perhaps as Prince’s greatest cinematic achievement. Look at the obstacles the movie faced. It’s a black and white French film with occasional subtitles. The good. There are plenty of lavish scenes featuring the beautiful and historic French city near the sea. The cinematography is every bit as stunning as Prince’s over-the-top personality. And there are more than a few memorable lines delivered by Prince and Benton.
“Sign o’ the Times” was a testimony to what Prince did best – make music and perform it on stage. He released the musically explosive double album in 1986. Many consider it the best of his career and every bit as pioneering forward as The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” “Sign o’ the Times” is a musical masterpiece and in many ways plays as if it were a soundtrack to some experimental cinematic trip that only existed inside of Prince’s head.
Prince filmed the concert movie to support the album (call it a long-form promotional video) and created an experience for the ages. Shot entirely on a soundstage, “Sign o’ the Times” was a belligerently intoxicating well-orchestrated jam session. It was a tour de force of new school funk and post-psychedelic rock. And like everything Prince did, he did it his way. He star-crossed his fans by not including the best song on the album, the beautifully written ballad “Adore,” in the film. What the movie is, is proof that Prince is one of greatest performers and entertainers of all-time. It’s an exceptional concert experience and a cinematically flawless concert film. Sadly the film has never been released in the U.S. on DVD or on any VOD platform. So good luck seeing it.
Yes, most people know about Prince’s musical legacy but his impact on film should never go unrecognized. Although Prince was far from the first artist to merge music with film, he did it in a way that forever cemented his visual legacy. His songs may have already painted emotional pictures but he took it a step further by meticulously matching stunning visuals with them and creating feature films that embodied his distinct creative philosophy and style.
Oh yeah there was also “Graffiti Bridge.” But like my grandmother used to tell me. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” That pretty much sums up that 1990 creative and box office flop that some consider one of the worst movies of all time. Even the soundtrack was unusually dull and uninspired.
That one misstep doesn’t de-value Prince as a filmmaker. Even “Graffiti Bridge” is uniquely Prince. Which at the very least is always interesting. The music cemented his legacy but his films will forever allow you to see what he was talking about.
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