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As a person with working ears, I’ve always liked Prince Rogers Nelson’s music, but I didn’t understand the vehement love for the man and his work until I moved to the Minneapolis area. The unwavering admiration shared between him and this city eventually becomes a natural part of life for those that make their home here. When Prince died unexpectedly this past April at the young age of 57, the entire world mourned, but no one outside of his family mourned like the Twin Cities did. Thousands gathered in front of the iconic First Avenue music venue – made world famous for its part in Purple Rain – to sing his songs, the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River was lit-up with purple lights, and it rained all day, culminating in a rainbow over the Paisley Park estate. Personally, I’m still moved by this outpouring of sadness and celebration all these months later and it is with this in mind that I approach Prince’s three movies as actor, writer, composer, and (in two cases) director – Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon, and Graffitti Bridge.

Prince Movie Collection

Purple Rain

(1984)
The Kid (Prince) is a Minneapolis musician on the rise with his band, the Revolution, escaping a tumultuous home life through music. While trying to avoid making the same mistakes as his father, the Kid navigates the club scene and a rocky relationship with singer, Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero). But, another musician, Morris (Morris Day), looks to steal the Kid's spotlight – and his girl. (From WB’s official synopsis)

Purple Rain is arguably the apex point of Prince’s pop-culture saturation. It wasn’t the best thing he had to offer the world as an artist, but its music, story, and imagery have come to define him to a large contingent of society. So many years have passed that it feels like a normal extension of his fame and ‘80s music, but, separated from decades of assumptions and expectations, it’s a very strange film. Director Albert Magnoli is forced to serve the vastly disparate elements of an extended music video and a cliche-driven, but heartfelt showbiz story. In ‘real movie’ terms, it’s a complete mess, in which the concert and montage sequences work beautifully, but every dramatic and comedic interaction between actors dives head-first into parody. Magnoli and co-writer William Blinn place a unique superstar with an established and loyal fanbase at the center of an underdog story. The plot tells us that he’s a poor kid from North Minneapolis fighting his way to a big break, but, because Prince is cast as Prince – a man that wears expensive clothes that match his expensive guitar and his expensive motorcycle – not some kid from North Minneapolis, it is patently absurd. Despite the heavy tone of The Kid’s abusive homelife (which made good fodder for the music video for “When Doves Cry”), the real drama revolves around the music and the live musical performances. The Kid’s biggest breakthrough isn’t even tied to his relationship with Apollonia or his family, but his relationship with his band. The real moral of the story is that he overcomes his ego long enough to play the song that his talented bandmates have written. In the end, it’s an almost transcendent form of narrative filmmaking – one that attempts to pay homage to the Hollywood institution, but is just too ‘Prince’ to care about tradition.

Purple Rain is an institution and will probably be re-released on home video until the sun swells up and swallows the Earth. It was a hit on VHS, DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray (in 2007). This collection features a new 2K HD remaster, however, so, fans can double-dip on this three movie collection with confidence. This remaster doesn’t perform any miracles – the grain is thick and somewhat inconsistent, and the bulk of the image is dark – but I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more that could’ve been done to make it look cleaner. I mean, besides employing a bunch of digital noise reduction, which was apparently the main problem with the 2007 transfer. And the new colour timing is apparently based on Magnoli and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin’s original answer print. The duo clearly wanted to create major contrast between The Kid’s bright and ethereal musical life and the gritty streets of the city. The crushed black levels and occasional edge enhancement probably could’ve been avoided. In any case, details are still plenty complex and the bright neon colours of the First Avenue stage are vivid.

The original stereo mix was remixed into 5.1 for the original DVD release and had been reused for theatrical re-releases over the years. That remix is presented here in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. It still mostly sounds like a stereo mix, especially where the music is concerned. There are a couple of stray rear channel audience reactions and instrumental echoes. Dialogue-based scenes tend to be centered and feature only nominal volume/clarity irregularities.

The extras are all taken from the special edition DVD and include:
  • Commentary with director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo, and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin
  • First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty (12:24, SD) – A look at the history of Minneapolis’ premiere rock and dance club (and its 7th Street Entry sub-venue) and how it was used for the film. You can tell the footage was shot awhile ago, because there are still ashtrays on the tables.
  • Purple Rain Backstage Pass (29:45, SD) – This retrospective featurette covers the making of the film from its inception to release. It includes interviews with the cast, crew, the band, and various cultural critics/historians.
  • Riffs, Ruffles and a Revolution: The Impact and Influence of Purple Rain (10:02, SD) – The same interviewees discuss the film and soundtrack album’s cultural impact.
  • MTV Premiere Party original live broadcast (27:52, SD)
  • Eight music videos (all SD):
    • ”Let's Go Crazy”
    • ”Take Me With U”
    • ”When Doves Cry”
    • ”I Would Die 4 U/Baby I'm a Star”
    • ”Purple Rain”
    • ”Jungle Love”
    • ”The Bird”
    • ”Sex Shooter”
  • Trailer


 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection


Prince Movie Collection

Under the Cherry Moon

(1986)
Christopher Tracy plays piano in a posh restaurant on the French Riviera. When he isn’t working the bar, he is out trying to con rich women with his partner Tricky. The two try to woo an heiress worth $50 million and when her father disapproves mayhem ensues. (From WB’s official synopsis)

Prince’s second film is usually characterized as a pretentious, self-indulgent mess. It is most certainly these things and then some. But, again, separated from the expectations and assumptions of the 1980s, it’s sort of the ideal Prince vehicle. In fact, Under the Cherry Moon might be the quintessential Prince movie, if it wasn’t for the black & white photography, which can’t possibly display the artist’s trademark colour (...imagine a monochrome purple movie). This double ham & cheese sandwich bears the essential ingredients of Richard Lester’s proto music video, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), in terms of its anarchic comedic content, yet its closest cousins are the French La Nouvelle Vague movies of the ‘60s. It’s like Godard’s Breathless (1960) for the MTV generation. Prince, who took over directing duties from music video/ Pet Sematary director Mary Lambert following creative differences (apparently, he was a complete terror behind-the-scenes), uses his first opportunity behind the camera as an excuse to experiment with just about every tool in his arsenal. The mixed-media, maddeningly anachronistic, nostalgia-driven pandemonium overstays its welcome (the whole thing would’ve probably worked better as a serialized series of music videos), but it’s definitely worth reevaluating 30 years later. You know what else? Prince’s performance is actually pretty funny.

Under the Cherry Moon was a huge critical and commercial failure, so it hasn’t been re-released on home video ad-nauseum, like Purple Rain. There were mostly barebones DVD releases, but, until now, no previous HD versions. For its Blu-ray debut, the footage has been remastered (I assume also in 2K, but can’t find specs) and is presented in 1080p, 1.78:1 video. As stated (and as you can see on this page) Prince and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (who shot The Color of Money for Scorsese the same year) chose to tell this story with black & white photography. In addition, they embrace a very 1930s-nostalgic soft focus look, including diffused lighting sources and heavy film grain. But here’s the rub – they actually filmed the movie in colour and chose to release it in black & white after the fact. This creates even more contrast issues, especially during brighter scenes, where the white levels bloom. This transfer is about as close to clarity as the film can get. Grain, details, and gradations all appear accurate, and there are no compression issues.

The film is presented in its original 2.0 in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Music is the key component to this highly stylized mix, but environmental effects scoot around the channels on occasion. The reasonably well-centered (despite the lack of a discrete central channel) dialogue is a bit inconsistent and flat due to the mix of set-captured and ADR material. The music mix doesn’t try to recreate the sound of a live performance. This time, the producers opt instead to stick to the stereo effects of the original recordings, including all of the weird echos.

The only extra is a trailer. Unfortunately, the music videos that were on the DVD are nowhere to be found.

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection


Prince Movie Collection

Graffiti Bridge

(1990)
The conflict between The Kid (Prince) and Morris (Morris Day) continue, as they struggle over the future of a nightclub and the love of an angelic woman (Ingrid Chavez). (From WB’s official synopsis)

Graffiti Bridge is almost impossible to critique on the same level as most movies and it lacks the unpredictable weirdness of Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon. Given the bad reaction to the latter film, it also seems like Prince was placating a disappointed audience. This is sort of artistically regressive, I suppose (I mean, he even saves the day with another ballad), but the results are still infectious and entertaining in a thoroughly early ‘90s fashion. And there is no denying the extreme Princeness of every frame. The artist returned to the director’s chair and completely took over writing duties for his final (non-concert) film. In this direct sequel to Purple Rain, the real Minneapolis/St. Paul area (including First Avenue) is left behind (for the most part – there are recreations of real locations) and replaced with smokey, neon-baked, super-stagey exposed brick and art deco sets. Almost every angle is of the Dutch and the backgrounds are filled with giant functionless fans to cut the light. It’s like a Patrick Nagel illustration sprang to life, made love to one of David Fincher’s Madonna videos, and took over a 90 minute, ad-free block on MTV. More importantly, this movie is only 90 minutes long. There’s very little time wasted on exposition, the self-indulgent melodrama has a chic dreamy quality, and Morris Day’s comedic breaks are much funnier than those Purple Rain time-wasters (probably because he’s paired with the superior comedic talents of Jerome Benton).

Graffiti Bridge’s ties to Purple Rain make it a slightly more popular movie than Under the Cherry Moon, but it still only had a mostly barebones anamorphic DVD releases until now. Like the other two movies in this set (which are being released as single movie discs as well), it is reportedly not just an HD version of that older DVD scan, but a new 1080p, 1.78:1 remaster. Since it was made at the beginning of the ‘90s, instead of the ‘80s, this particular film features slicker and even more music video inspired photography than the other two movies. Prince and cinematographer Bill Butler slather the stagey sets in vibrant neon and sheets of fog, making this the most vivid, yet grainiest movie in the set. There are a couple of shots in which the grain appears noisy, some really extreme wobble during a single crane shot (about the 23:20 mark), as well as general blurriness throughout some of the dance/concert scenes, but I assume most of these are inherent in the original footage. Black levels are better integrated than they are on the Purple Rain[i] transfer.

[i]Graffiti Bridge
is presented in its original 2.0 in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Not surprisingly, it is the best mixed and most lively of the three, even without the extra boost of a 5.1 remix. There are some minor issues with vocal distortion, usually due to awkward noise-reduction, and this does make the dialogue sound a bit flat. Again, music is the key component, perhaps even more than the other two movies. Very little screen time ticks by without some kind of song or funky underscore.

The only extra is another trailer. Again, the music videos that appeared on the old DVD are nowhere to be found.

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection

 Prince Movie Collection
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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