Judge Brett Cullum gets out all his funky weapons to take on this troubled Prince project.
Music is the power. Love is the message. Truth is the answer. "Let down your funky weapons and come join us on the floor!"
Graffiti Bridge may well be the nail in the coffin of Prince's film career. Many people were excited about the concept of a sequel to his most popular hit, Purple Rain, but in the end this second chapter was deemed unworthy by critics and audiences alike in the fall of 1990. Now Warner Bros. is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Prince's Purple Rain by releasing it and his other nonconcert films. Graffiti Bridge gets an almost barebones release, with only music videos and a trailer supporting its debut on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Graffiti Bridge picks up the story of the Kid (Prince) several years after the events of Purple Rain. He's locked in a battle with his more successful rival, Morris Day, and his band The Time, who own half the club the Kid runs. They feel he's wasting money playing spiritual music that nobody likes, and they want to bully him into giving up. Enter a mysterious poet named Aura (Ingrid Chavez, in her only film role), who gets involved with both the Kid and Morris. She wants to save their souls before it's too late, which seems to mean that she wants Morris to give up greed and the Kid to start believing in himself again. Meanwhile we are witness to a lot of performances by the Kid and The Time, and the film's climax involves a winner-take-all battle of the bands.
Graffiti Bridge was first conceived by Prince and Kim Basinger as a film they would make together. Unfortunately that relationship ended before filming began, and Prince needed to revamp the project. He wanted Madonna to step in for Kim, but she wasn't very interested in that possibility. Prince had also been working on a new album for the band The Time, and he thought that perhaps he could center the film around them. Warner Bros. had been burned by Under the Cherry Moon, so the suits demanded that Prince make Graffiti Bridge the sequel to Purple Rain and feature him and The Time. Prince decided to shoot the movie on the lot of his Paisley Park studios in Minneapolis, and he spent six weeks shooting there—all in warehouses to avoid the Minnesota weather. It took him 36 weeks to edit the movie because he was also on his Nude tour of Europe. The movie's release date was pushed back, and as a result its premiere was four months behind the soundtrack album's debut. It opened in only 700 theatres across the country and quickly bombed. The UK release was abandoned, and the film instead went straight to video.
I should tell you that I am a Prince fan. I have all of his albums and 12" singles, and I've seen him live more than I have seen any other artist. He's a genius, and he deserves his place in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. I love Purple Rain, and I find Under the Cherry Moon entertaining as a bad movie I don't mind watching. Graffiti Bridge, however, is another story. This film was described by people in Prince's camp as a mix of West Side Story and Tommy. Prince himself said in several interviews that he was shooting for a 1950s musical feel. Prince also claimed that he learned from Under the Cherry Moon that he should only direct scripts he wrote. Graffiti Bridge proves that, although the man is a genius musically, filmwise he has some issues.
First off, the script is a muddy mess, and making sense of any of it is a headache-inducing chore I wish on nobody. The production looks cheap, with all the sets having been built inside the warehouses. No doubt Prince saw this done on Batman when he worked on that score, but Batman had Tim Burton and a budget. What should be the movie's strength, the songs, works against the plot in many instances. The sequence with "Thieves in the Temple" makes absolutely no sense since it's primarily a breakup song but is sung before he even officially meets Aura. Many of the songs are acted out literally in other sequences, which make you feel you are watching a low-concept video on MTV. And the climax just has no punch at all. You walk away shaking your head and wondering what the real point of all this was. The religious aspects are unclear, there's really not a love story in the mix, and the Kid simply broods all the time while Morris prances and preens. The struggle here seems to be for Prince to come up with anything that's clear, and he fails.
Warner Bros. provides a widescreen anamorphic transfer of Graffiti Bridge that echoes their previous laserdisc release of the title. A lot of edge enhancement is apparent, and grain and dirt are still a problem. Overall the transfer is soft, and the colors seem fine. Audio is provided in a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix that is all right for the most part; I noticed a real glitch during The Time's performance of "Shake" where the soundtrack speeds up for a second, but mostly it's fine. Warners have included music videos for "Thieves in the Temple," "New Power Generation," "Round and Round," and "The Question of U." Oh yeah, and a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Amazingly, as lackluster as the movie is, it does have some pretty great songs. The live performances are well choreographed by Prince and Otis Sallid (who primarily works for Spike Lee). Bill Butler (Frailty) is the director of photography, and he seems to know how to photograph the concert sequences effectively. Give him a microphone, and Prince will show you where his true passion comes from. The songs express everything much more clearly than the script, and they even give you more to chew on than anything in the movie.
The movie has its champions out there, and Prince fans should be really pleased that this release has finally come to pass. At least this movie has some really great songs and some nice dance routines to look at. And, as usual, the costumes are out of this world. Graffiti Bridge is not a total wash, and it could even be really exceptional, under two conditions: You'd have to fast-forward through most of the dialogue, and you should probably also be a little drunk, or with someone you like making out with.
As a movie, Graffiti Bridge just doesn't cut it. It doesn't look like anyone is having much fun in it, and for that reason it comes in behind Under the Cherry Moon. I would say that if you are looking for a sequel to Purple Rain you might check out Eminem's 8 Mile. Spiritually it has more of a connection with Prince's biggest hit than this woozy mess.
Prince is given a restraining order to prevent him from making any more movies unless someone else writes the script and directs. Warner Bros. gets fined for another barebones disc with a mediocre transfer for one of its most successful artists.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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