Do you ever wonder what happened to The Kid (Prince, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON) after PURPLE RAIN? (SPOILERS FOR PURPLE RAIN.) His dad had hit his mom and shot himself. Wendy and Lisa had been mad at him for being a dick, and Apollonia had left him for being abusive and a dick. Club owner Billy had thought his music was too self-indulgent and wasn’t bringing ’em in anymore. But then he came out and performed “Purple Rain” for the first time and… I mean, it was “Purple Rain.” It was beautiful and it was sort of an apology to everybody and they were all moved and blown away, even Morris Day. And The Kid seemed to make up with Apollonia and his dad was still alive in the hospital and did everything turn out okay for everybody, is what I’m asking?
Well, as far as what happened with Apollonia and The Revolution and some of the other stuff, you’re gonna have to go to the Expanded Universe novels I guess. But to see where The Kid was at in 1990 you gotta watch the last feature film Prince ever made (this time as writer/director/composer/star), GRAFFITI BRIDGE.
The Kid writes letters to his dad, who is confirmed to be dead from self-inflicted gunshot wound (so Prince returned to his original plan of having dad die in PURPLE RAIN). He says his mom is in a nursing home, but Morris claims she’s in “the nut house.” Billy has passed away of undisclosed causes and willed the 1st Ave club equally to The Kid and Morris. But Morris and The Time work out of a different club called Pandemonium, co-owned by Billy’s daughter Robin (Robin Power). They wear fly suits and sit at a conference table by the bar discussing financials, passing around a jar of hot chili peppers as some kind of loyalty test.
But The Kid and his current band The New Power Generation run Billy’s club and call it Glam Slam. Since this is only a year after “Batdance,” Prince has that same long, straight hair and lives in a pit that’s sort of halfway between a pad and the Batcave that he was jamming in in that video. He writes lyrics, plays keyboard and sequences tracks on a Mac with a trackball. There are plants and a fish tank but also pipes and grates and it’s only accessible by a metal trapdoor with a ladder going down.
He still drives what appears to be the same motorcycle. In real life obviously it would be a shame if he lost such a beautiful machine, but I think since this is a movie sequel it would be cool if he had a drastically different one, like Batman would with a Batmobile. I’m sure they regretted not doing that because they probly could’ve sold way more GRAFFITI BRIDGE toys. Pullback motor so you can jump it off the bridge playset.
I don’t know about you, but in my memory the ’80s and the ’90s are two different worlds culturally, and the vast changes in Prince’s music and fashion between these movies are a great illustration of that. I tend to think of this as a way-after-the-fact sequel, but really there were three years longer between THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM and JASON BOURNE. It’s only six years later but it might as well be the future of BLADE RUNNER. Now they live in an artificial world filmed almost entirely on a soundstage inside Prince’s Paisley Park studio (where he had filmed much of SIGN O’ THE TIMES after the tour footage disappointed him).
The locations consist of:
- One soundstage block called “Seven Corners” that has four night clubs on it. Reminds me a little bit of the street in ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT.
- The interiors of said clubs, where great musical artists perform
- Also each of the clubs have apartments in them where their owners live
- A small stone bridge over a creek where you can go sit and write poetry or whatever
- An alley with oil barrels and steam and one light above to reflect on the wet concrete and allow dramatic silhouetted entrances
In fact there’s a beautifully Princely-fonted credit “Introducing Ingrid Chavez as Aura” on screen as a gorgeous young short-haired woman enters the movie through this alley. A light shining on her face and a feather floating from above imply that she’s an angel.
She whispers prayers to Heaven in a voice I instantly recognized from Lovesexy, my absolute favorite less-popular Prince album. Lovesexy was two years earlier, Batman one year earlier, and some of the music we hear in the movie shares their aesthetic of multi-layered, gently distorted, goofy, sexy circus funk (especially the song “Release It” by The Time, which kinda reminds me of “Dance On.”)
I am now realizing that the only way to really explain this one is to go through and describe a bunch of the shit that happens scene-by-scene. So that’s what I’m gonna do.
The Kid is more like a The Adult now, but he hasn’t stopped letting his musical genius get in the way of his relationships. As we’re reintroduced to him he’s alienating his girlfriend Jill (Jill Jones) by ignoring her to tinker with tracks on his Mac. At night the club is still full of weirdo hipsters dancing and making out like it was in the PURPLE RAIN era, but there are way more spotlights and keytars, and the band does more choreographed dance moves. There’s a big spinning fan with lightbeams and fog, a classic cliche of early music video and one of the few touches that seems more ’80s than ’90s.
Aura wanders around the clubs looking bored, but she seems to be kind of a muse, because after The Kid sees her he paints lyrics on a wall that he turns into a song. When she hears it she still looks bored. Later he abducts her while she’s unconscious and then he dreams about singing a song to her.
Like Billy before him, Morris feels the content of The Kid’s music is not commercial enough. In a confrontation that explains to us what the movie is supposed to be about, he says, “People tell me you been making that spiritual noise again. You know I can’t make no money that way.”
“If you ever gave it a chance, one day you would,” The Kid says, to ON DEADLY GROUND style ADR crowd approval. The awkward way he tells Morris off reminds me of Michael Jackson for some reason. Oh how I wish Michael had made a couple full-on vanity films like this.
Morris declares “Grace, you better wake up! This music will never change anybody!,” which not only telegraphs what’s going to happen at the end but is our first sign that Morris and others like to call everybody “Grace” or “Stella” for some reason. Those guys have alot of things they do that I’m not sure if they’re cultural or just in-jokes.
This becomes the first big musical number/battle of the bands sequence after the NPG keyboard player pulls a Stevie-Wonder-on-The-Cosby-Show by sampling Morris’s voice as he says “Release it!” and then playing it back to him. But The Kid messes up by tauntingly singing the phrase, allowing The Time to sample that and use it as a hook for their song.
I think this is one of the musical highlights of the movie. Aura looks concerned when she hears how funky the beat is. Morris – who really is rich now, not a phony like he was six years ago – raps and combs his (Boz-cut-like) hair and makes a big show of talking on an old school cell phone with antenna. Back then that was supposed to mean you were important. He coaxes the crowd to come over to his club, then stops to piss on one of The Kid’s ferns and light it on fire while singing the alphabet song (accompanied by The Kid’s keyboard player – TREACHERY!)
Morris is mad because Glam Slam is the only one he doesn’t have a controlling interest in. But I feel he should be happy with Pandemonium right across the street. It’s more up his alley, more of a “Partyman” vibe. There’s a woman dancing in a cage. The stage is round and has actual flames that come up around the edge. There’s a giant prop bottle that says “Crisca” on it (like an off-brand Crisco). I was confused by that until the end credits when he called the stage “my skillet!”
Morris spots Aura writing poetry under the bridge and invites her to his club. She seems to secretly be on a mission to “save” him also, or maybe this is just part of her ploy to go after The Kid. But she keeps bringing up religious stuff while he tries to seduce her. He gets her drunk and he and Jerome are clearly planning to rape her, but The Kid follows their car on his motorcycle and suddenly it turns into a video for the best known song from the soundtrack, “Thieves in the Temple.” Oh jesus is that what he means when he says “there are thieves in the temple tonight”? Morris and Jerome trying to get into an angel’s, uh… Yeah, it plays real different in the context of the movie.
Once Aura is asleep and hiccuping on his couch, Morris fortunately tells Jerome “oh, I’m not gonna take it.” But I guess there was supposed to be some kind of love potion (?) because he says when she wakes up she’ll fall in love with the first person she sees. So The Kid sneaks in, blows out the candle and carries her away. In the dark, Jerome attempts to assault her but instead gropes Morris and when they realize it Morris tries to hold in homophobic barf.
So Morris (who also threw a woman in a dumpster in PURPLE RAIN) is still not a particularly enlightened individual in this one, but the primping egomaniac shtick continues to be funny. He and Jerome make Robin take off her cape so he can use it to walk over a puddle. He has some good lines too, like when instead of saying “what’s your problem?” to The Kid he says “what’s your main problem?”
To give you an idea of the weird Princely sensual-religiousness of the movie, when Aura wakes she smiles lovingly at The Kid, and he cuddles up with a heart-shaped notepad to play a game of hangman. When he reveals that the answer is “MINE” he points at her and smiles. But she says, “No, baby. His,” and dramatically points a finger God-ward.
Eventually The Kid challenges Morris to “a battle” to decide who gets to keep Glam Slam. Or maybe it’s to decide more than that. According to Aura, “Seven Corners, two souls fight. One wants money, one wants light.”
The NPG pulls a STEP UP type move: they set off fireworks while The Time are on stage, so everybody comes outside and they’re doing a ground-humping dance to a song called “Tick Tick Bang.” The Kid has most of his hairy chest exposed and there’s a big heart painted on it with the words “BEAT ME” inside it like a kinky conversation heart.
As you can see, Aura doesn’t look like she likes this performance at all. She tells Heaven “I’m losing him.” I guess this is kind of like the “Darling Nikki” scene of this movie. The Kid performs a dark song that upsets his love interest. But with “Darling Nikki” it was clear that he was being really mean and weird by performing it to Apollonia. This one, I’m not sure what’s supposed to be so bad about it. This seems to be reflective of a struggle that Prince had through much of his life. It may seem weird to say that he felt guilty, but I think sometimes he did, like when he decided it was bad to curse and could never sing about a “sexy motherfucker shakin that ass, shakin that ass, shakin that ass” again. GRAFFITI BRIDGE wasn’t long after he’d recorded The Black Album and then decided it was too negative and cancelled its release. And in the Batman videos and other places he’d depicted himself as a split, yin-yang sort of personality. I think “Tick Tick Bang” is supposed to represent his negative side, and the idea is that he can’t win until Aura gets him to bring out the positive.
She gives him a good fortune cookie line: “You can’t fight fire with fire. When a man screams you must whisper.” Later she gets randomly hit by a Jeep and The Kid goes to Graffiti Bridge and almost shoots himself but then remembers her advice and sings a pretty spiritual song about Heaven and what not called “Still Would Stand All Time” in front of a giant black light poster of a sexy naked angel.
Afterwards there’s a long, quiet tension as The Kid looks nervous and Morris walks over to him and finally they shake hands and hug.
Lovesexy first used the phrase “New Power Generation,” and GRAFFITI BRIDGE introduced the band by that name. But most people never saw the movie and didn’t know about them until 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls album, so this is definitely a transitional period. The NPG had plenty of great songs (“Cream,” “Gett Off,” “My Name Is Prince,” “Sexy MF,” “7,” etc.) but their most easily identifiable feature is their biggest weakness: the fuckin rapping. You know I love rap, but I cannot abide by NPG’s corny MC Tony M. I guess he came later because the movie instead has the character of T.C. (T.C. Ellis), who several times complains that they would do better in the battles if The Kid let him rap. He’s finally allowed to during the end credits, at which point it is clear that The Kid had made the right decision by brushing him off. This is not a Wendy & Lisa situation.
In 1990 obviously Prince was a well-established institution, using his Paisley Park label to introduce new artists and reinvent older ones who inspired him. Many of the people in the movie had albums on Paisley Park: T.C. Ellis had True Confessions in 1991 (I had it on cassette, but I liked the Carmen Electra one better), The Time released Pandemonium (same as the club) a few months before the movie, Robin Power was a rapper recording with Prince but never released an album, Ingrid Chavez released the poetry over music album May 19, 1992 in 1991, and Jill Jones, who plays his off-again girlfriend Jill (and sings a song at Pandemonium), had an eponymous album in 1987.
I have to confess, I did not realize who that was until I was going through the movie again to get screengrabs and I got to this scene where Jill hands The Kid a canister of paint to splash on his graffiti lyric wall. She looks very sad and very familiar and
HOLY SHIT JILL JONES IS THE BLOND WAITRESS I LOVE FROM PURPLE RAIN. She’s just a bit part but then at the end she puts it all out there, comes to The Kid backstage, tears in her eyes, and she sees him see her and be disappointed that she’s not Apollonia, and he walks right past her without so much as a “hi.” We don’t know if they have a history, or if she just has always loved him and he has no idea. It doesn’t seem like he gives a shit and it’s heartbreaking.
Hot damn, turns out she got the last laugh on Apollonia! Except then he dissed her for an angel. Shit. Poor Jill never can catch a break. Sorry Jill.
There are three major special guests singing in the movie. George Clinton is in two or three scenes playing himself, owner of a club referred to as “George’s Club” and “Clinton’s Club” though the sign says “Clinton’s House.” When the NPG need inspiration for new music they go to Clinton’s House and watch him perform “We Can Funk” (with a band made up of Prince people like Eric Leeds and Rosie Gaines, no P-Funk people that I recognize). The then-14-year-old R&B singer Tevin Campbell is repeatedly seen hanging out in Seven Corners, and he performs a song for The Kid where he sings and dances with adults wearing leather jackets and berets. His mom is club owner Melody Cool, played by the great Mavis Staples of the Staples Singers, who also gets to sing a song about herself.
All of these songs, and most of the songs performed by The Time, are unmistakably written by Prince, and usually have his voice and probly him playing some of the music. Which is cool but it’s funny that they’re all supposed to be battling each other when they’re all obviously the same guy.
Campbell wasn’t on Paisley Park other than this soundtrack, but Staples and Clinton each did two albums with them. As a P-Funk worshiper I’m fascinated by this odd period, a weird fit for Clinton, but it did resurrect his career in the age of hip hop. I have a soft spot for The Cinderella Theory (1989), but it’s mostly forgettable except for the two singles. “Why Should I Dog U Out?” is important to mention here because in the movie the NPG are frequently worried about being “dogged out” by The Time. And “Tweakin'” features Public Enemy doing verses they later turned into “The B-Side Wins Again” on Fear of a Black Planet. I like the album version, but I fucking love this remix from the 12″ single:
Clinton’s best Paisley Park album was 1993’s Hey Man Smell My Finger. Though the single/video “Paint the White House Black” sort of panders to people like me by featuring Cube and Dre and PE and a bunch of people, the album overall is very daring and representative of Clinton’s endless creativity. I mean, normal people don’t want to hear an old weirdo with rainbow colored hair rapping, but I’ve never gotten over the catchy rhymes and crazy funk production of “Rhythm & Rhyme.” Which doesn’t seem to be on Youtube, but see if you can find that song and listen to it.
Weirdly, the one song on the album written by Prince, “The Big Pump,” is fucking terrible.
The graffiti bridge itself is not seen as much and does not seem to be as important as the title would imply. Apparently the idea comes from a landmark in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The one in the movie is prettier, but contains far less graffiti. The real life one was torn down the year after the movie.
Contradictory things I’ve read about GRAFFITI BRIDGE: it started out as a vehicle for The Time. It was supposed to star Prince and Kim Basinger but then they broke up. Whatever happened, it ended up a nice document of another one of Prince’s millions of crushes. Though there’s barely a character written for her, Chavez is adorable and noticeably smitten, and you can see why Prince would be so worshipful of a beautiful poet that he would make a movie vehicle for her and depict her as literally coming from Heaven to save him. In fact he reportedly told his friends the night he met her in a Minnesota bar and took her to Paisley Park that he’d met an angel.
At the time she was a 22-year-old single mother. During the three months they spent together, her presence inspired him to stop working on the Black Album and do the sex-and-religion themed Lovesexy instead. She wrote “Justify My Love” with Lenny Kravitz but the label gave it to Madonna without crediting her. When Prince heard it he could tell that Chavez had written it and worried that now people would think her album was ripping off Madonna.
The pricks at The Razzies, unsurprisingly, nominated Chavez for “Worst New Star,” and to add insult to injury fucking Donald Trump was one of the other nominees. But the win went to Sofia Coppola, so they can go fuck themselves. Chavez only acted that one time for Prince, and seems to have enjoyed an untroubled life as a humble independent artist outside of the purple spotlight.
At the end, after Morris concedes to The Kid, T.C. says, “Man, can you believe it? The Kid won! And with a ballad. Damn!” I really like that strategy and the “what does it take to change the essence of a man” moment with Morris. And I honestly love this underappreciated era of Prince music. But the fact is these songs are not the best incarnation of it, and if you find yourself making a song-to-song comparison to PURPLE RAIN obviously it’s gonna come up short. “New Power Generation” – pretty good song. “Let’s Go Crazy” – all time great song and perfect introduction to a movie and a band and an era. “Still Would Stand All Time” – not bad. “Purple Rain” – I mean, it’s “Purple Rain.” Songs that are fine on their own seem pathetic if you try to stack them up against maybe the greatest rock soundtrack achieved by man so far.
For that reason – and also the meandering, uneventful plot and incoherent messaging – GRAFFITI BRIDGE is easily the worst of Prince’s movies. But as a fan it’s still fascinating, much more so now that it’s a time capsule than when it was a new release VHS rental in the early ’90s. He was failing, but he was trying to do something interesting again. He wasn’t making DISORDERLIES, this is a very artful production in many ways. I couldn’t find any stills online that do it justice, so I made a couple. Look at these colors:
Now that I look at it that bottom one really reminds me of MO’ BETTER BLUES. Both the movie and the poster. It’s a coincidence, because they came out three months apart.
The recently released Blu-Ray really captures the beautifully artificial look that Prince created with cinematographer Bill Butler (JAWS, ROCKY II–IV, CHILD’S PLAY) and production designer Vance Lorenzini (Madonna – “Express Yourself,” Janet Jackson – “Rhythm Nation 1814”). It’s a visual and audio record of an interesting era of Prince that, having been less commercially successful than others, hasn’t been pored over as much.
Actually, I kinda like this movie now.