By Jon Roig
Arizona Daily Wildcat
"It's funny how things even out as times goes by. These movies become part of the culture or the subculture and they're there, but everything else changes . The world changes but the movie stays the same; it's just there"
-Larry Cohen (Director of "The Stuff" and "Ambulance")
Just ask The Beatles, The Monkees, Michael Jackson and Vanilla
Ice about filmmaking (that's right . there is a Vanilla Ice film:
it's called "Cool As Ice" and it serves as the Iceman's epitaph). All of these movies are a testament to the times in which they were made and the artists that created them. They serve to cement an image of a musician. After seeing Jackson's "Moonwalker" you know EXACTLY where he's coming from Ÿ and it's scary.
But in modern times, as in post-1980, the band movie has dwindled away from a raging torrent of BeeGees' films ("Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band") and Who films ("Tommy") to . almost nothing.
Only Prince, back when he was Prince and not some unpronounceable symbol, has managed to provide consistently good films that can still be enjoyed a decade later. What makes Prince different from other actors who have made the jump from music to film (like Ice Cube) is that he remains Prince in all the films Ÿ he doesn't play a different role. His music always figures prominently into the plot.
Take, for instance, Prince's first feature, "Purple Rain." As the most accessible of all his movies, it showcases a struggle that Prince has been involved with for his whole career. His effort to bring spirituality to the sexuality of his music manifests itself in an epic battle between The Kid (Prince) and the evil, corporate purveyor of hard sex-funk, Morris Day. Day plays the role of the greedy egomaniac to the hilt, and Jerome Benton is great as his dimwitted, but loyal, right-hand man. It's a complicated tale in which Prince replicates his father's destructive behavior, as he defeats Morris Day and his band, The Time, in a battle for control of the Minneapolis club scene. It also involves Prince's seduction of a young singer named Apollonia. The music has stood the test of time (and, in this case, The Time), and the film, while bordering on surreal, is still fairly conventional and completely enjoyable. As an interesting little bit of trivia, "Purple Rain" won an Oscar for "best original score" in 1984.
1990's "Graffiti Bridge" is the sequel Ÿ but I'm not sure if you can call it an equal. The Revolution has been replaced with the artier New Power Generation, but The Kid is back to do battle with Morris Day and those misanthropes in The Time. While all the music in "Purple Rain" was performed on a stage (and thus remains pretty separate from the plot), "Graffiti Bridge" takes a big turn into the previously unexplored (by Prince at least) Land of The Rock Opera. People break into musical numbers with little or no provocation, while Prince attempts to seduce women by playing games with them and driving them around on his purple motorcycle. The club scene is still a battleground, and Prince's love interest is different, but "Graffiti Bridge" is a more or less a newer "Purple Rain."
The oddest Prince movie of them all is 1986's "Under the Cherry Moon." Filmed in color but shown in black and white (giving it a "unique look"), it's a period piece set in the 1600s. There are cars and boomboxes in it, but never mind all that. Prince takes on a new identity as Christopher Tracy, a street hustler intent on seducing a young heiress. Always the sidekick and never the leading man, Jerome Benton returns in a new form as Tricky, Christopher's sidekick.
"Under the Cherry Moon" was Prince's first attempt at directing and writing his own films Ÿ the mark of a true auteur. Lost somewhere in the no man's land between genius and insanity, the film is an ode to Prince's megalomania. He portrays himself as a kind of Christ figure Ÿ a theme that continues in his more recent work. He's a thief and a player, but love redeems him in the end. The only reason I didn't completely enjoy the film is that it was distinctly lacking Prince music. He does a few song and dance numbers, but this seems to be his attempt to distance himself from his musical work and being labeled 'just another musician.' Prince goes classical (sort of) for the soundtrack for the film Ÿ "Parade." According to the New Power Newsletter on the net (http://morra.et.tudelft.nl/npn/), "Prince can be seen as much mythical as real. He gathers shrouded layers of mystery about him at a time when Media says that forthright personal simplicity is in vogue. The human imagination adores mystery like this..."
Prince's films only help to add to the mystery, and to make thing more intriguing, it's rumored that there are more than these three floating around. You can listen to all his music and all of his albums, but nothing will give you a sense of who The Artist Formerly Known as Prince is and what he's about like seeing a Prince film.
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