Celluloid Jukebox: Prince, Auteur

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Celluloid Jukebox

Prince, Auteur

by Kaya Oakes
illustration by Ethos

PRINCE IS many things to many people: brilliant musician, albeit arguably past his prime as a composer; spiritual dilettante; hardcore eccentric; lover of a series of practically identical muses; and, yes, wearer of assless pants. Yet the cinematic oeuvre of Prince is underappreciated. Both Purple Rain (1984) and Under the Cherry Moon (1986) are enjoyable romps through Prince’s fantasyland, full of purple leather, cameos by the guy who plays keyboards in a doctor’s outfit, and really, really great soundtracks. Graffiti Bridge (1990), however, is wretched. Madonna is rumored to have turned down a part in it because she thought the script was so awful, and Madonna knows awful when it comes to film roles. Mix in cute-kid one-hit-wonder Tevin Campbell, wasted cameos by George Clinton and Mavis Staples, and a cheap set (the entire film was shot at Prince’s Paisley Park compound), and you’re guaranteed an hour and a half of suffering. Even the songs suck.

I’ve long been a defender of Under the Cherry Moon, the soundtrack of which, in my opinion, is far superior to Purple Rain. Unlike Purple Rain, Cherry Moon doesn’t take itself seriously… at all. It’s a ridiculous fantasia of Prince and borrowed Morris Day sidekick Jerome romping through the South of France in glam black and white. It’s also, oddly, the screen debut of Kristin Scott Thomas, later the ice queen of The English Patient, who looks bewildered throughout. The real sexual sparks in this movie are between Prince and Jerome, who take bubble baths, gaze fondly at one another, and generally appear to be living like pop stars in paradise. Purple Rain is Purple Rain: a series of scorching concert scenes interrupted by plot and lots of Prince attempting to eye-fuck the audience. Worth seeing, but not much fun.

So, in the interest of spanning the short, happy film career of Prince Rogers Nelson, writer, director and actor, here is the Prince filmography rating scale. Put on your best assless pants and enjoy.

Purple Rain

• Prince’s hair: Asymmetrical jheri curl w/John Waters moustache
• Love interest’s acting ability on a scale of 1-10: 2
• Jerome screen time (approx): 15 minutes
• Jerome holding mirror: 2 scenes
• Homoerotic quotient: Mostly confined to Wendy and Lisa
• Most ridiculous Prince costume: Lace facial half-mask
• Crowd spontaneously bursts into choreographed dance number: Once
• Great songs: Many

Under the Cherry Moon

• Prince’s hair: ’20s screen-siren finger waves
• Love interest’s acting ability on a scale of 1-10: 5
• Jerome screen time: 1 1/2 hours
• Jerome holding mirror: Pretty much constant
• Homoerotic quotient: Off the charts
• Most ridiculous Prince costume: None, but he does wear a turban
• Crowd spontaneously bursts into choreographed dance number: Once
• Great songs: All of them (soundtrack aka Parade)

Graffiti Bridge

• Prince’s hair: Shoulder length, pressed, with bizarre Abraham Lincoln half-beard
• Love interest’s acting ability on a scale of 1-10: negative
• Jerome screen time: 15 minutes
• Jerome holding mirror: 1 scene
• Homoerotic quotient: Confined to Morris and Jerome
• Most ridiculous Prince outfit: Harlequin poncho with matching pants
• Crowd spontaneously bursts into choreographed dance number: In every scene
• Great songs: “Thieves in the Temple,” maybe.

Kaya Oakes is a senior editor of Kitchen Sink, and “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is probably her favorite Prince song. 

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