This article belongs to the story Prince’s second soundtrack, the sublime Parade.
This article contains a portion of the press’ reactions to Parade and Under The Cherry Moon. Many of the reviews I have gathered are in (my native tongue) Dutch. Since I know that many of the readers on the English version of my blog don’t understand Dutch, I omitted those reviews from this article. Would you want to read the Dutch reviews anyway, please click here, or click on the Dutch flag beside/below this article.
I divided the article into two parts:
- For reviews on Parade, see paragraph Album
- For reviews on Under The Cherry Moon, see paragraph Movie
This paragraph contains all reviews regarding the Parade album.
Click on the reviews to enlarge.
I have found more reviews, of which I don’t own a physical copy, so text-only.
Detroit Free Press, 03/30/1986
PRINCE TAKES A CUE FROM HIS PAST AND GETS BACK TO THE DANCE FLOOR
By Gary Graff / Donna Oldendorf
Parade – Prince (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.):
Prince takes stock of the various directions he has explored during his eight-year recording career and integrates them into an intriguing and, ultimately, entertaining work. He brings his music back to the dance floor of “Dirty Mind” and “1999” without getting trapped by the same old steps. He also retains the psuedo-psychedelic edge – and makes better use of it – than he did on last year’s album, “Around the World in a Day.” And he checks any pretensions by managing to keep his sense of humor and fun throughout the record. The only thing missing is the hard rock guitar pyrotechnics of his breakthrough record, “Purple Rain,” but they wouldn’t really fit here, anyway.
The gems on “Parade” – due in stores on Monday – are unquestionably the foot-movers, stuff like the quirky first single, “Kiss,” “New Position,” “Girls & Boys,” “Mountains” and “Anotherloverholenyohead.” But Prince is equally effective when he about-faces on “Venus De Milo,” a soft piano-saxophone duet, and “Sometimes It Snows in April,” a moody acoustic piece full of religious metaphors. The lulls come when Prince dips too far into psychedelia on the imitative “Wonder U,” “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” and “Under a Cherry Moon,” songs written more as accompaniment for the visuals of Prince’s upcoming film, “Under a Cherry Moon,” than as listening pieces. Still, the bulk of “Parade” is listenable and enjoyable, a confirmation of Prince’s place as a superior melodist, arranger and player as well as a celebration of his creativity.
(Detroit Free Press, 03/30/1986)
New York Times, 03/30/1986
PRINCE’S ‘PARADE’ STAKES A CLAIM TO POPULARITY
By John Rockwell
Prince became a big star with the 1984 release of his first film, “Purple Rain,” and its attendant soundtrack LP and hit singles. But it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s only 25 years old. Even though he’s a practiced pop-music veteran, having released an album a year since 1978, he’s still coalescing as an artist. Unlike a student or a garret-dwelling Bohemian, however, his maturation is taking place in the glare of modern celebrity publicity – an exposure likely to distort as much as it reveals.
Now we have the 1986 Prince release, “Parade” (Warner Bros. WB25395, LP and cassette due out tomorrow, with the CD scheduled for April 28). It comes in the wake of his guardedly received 1985 album, “Around the World in a Day,” which was widely criticized for a false and over-ornate 1960’s psychedelic feeling. But more than a corrective for any stylistic misstep – there is plenty of 60’s atmosphere in “Parade,” too – the new album is an attempt to recoup ground lost by the negative publicity surrounding Prince personally.
It is likely to succeed in that aim for three unrelated reasons. One, it’s very good. Two, as the soundtrack for Prince’s forthcoming second film, “Under the Cherry Moon,” it may win a wider audience in the same way as the “Purple Rain” soundtrack. Three, given the increasing volatility of the pop music star-making and star-breaking apparatus, it’s about time for public taste to swing back in Prince’s favor.
Stars today are rapidly, almost instantaneously inflated into mass phenomena, sell millions of records and appear on every magazine cover. Then, suddenly, grievous character flaws are discovered – which may or may not exist, or may exist in lesser measure than eager exposes imply -and the public mood swings into dismissiveness.
The public perception of Prince swung from a sly charmer to surly misogynist paranoid between 1984 and 1985 – just as, the year before, Michael Jackson had fallen from boy genius to androgynous eccentric. In Prince’s case, a few luridly reported incidents of snooty public behavior combined with overzealous body-guards certainly fueled the backlash. He hardly helped his cause with last year’s “Around the World” album, in which a not very convincing approximation of McCartneyesque Beatles innocence clashed egregiously with his own image of defensive arrogance.
The irony was that his entire early reputation was of an aggressive kid obsessed with explicit sexuality (typical song-themes included incest, fellatio, onanism and bondage). “Purple Rain,” aside from being a musically more diverse and assured album than most of his earlier efforts, also represented a softening of that image. Thus the uglier behavior that provoked last year’s “backlash” might be seen as a reassertion of the “real” Prince.
But reality in this case seems considerably more interesting and complex; Prince is a talented, still-evolving musician capable of far more challenging work than a mere facile pop trickster with a dirty mind (the title of his 1980 album, and one of his best).
When he signed with Warner Bros. Records at the age of 17, Prince was a prodigiously gifted provincial loner who created most of his albums by himself in his Minneapolis studio, overdubbing all the instruments. This is a situation conducive to self-aggrandizing fantasies. And the mere presence of striking musical gifts -for composing, singing, instrumental playing and studio manipulation -can cover up an unsure, half-formed sense of artistic direction.
With Prince, sexuality seems to have been both a publicity ploy – one hardly unprecedented in the raunchy world of rock-and-roll – and a genuine reflection of his adolescent interests, or so he’s said in interviews. This sexuality, coupled with a less-than-sure gift for lyric writing – his texts are often prosaic and naive -made his other themes, like God, the apocalypse and political injustice, seem hollow.
And yet the outrageousness did serve a musical purpose, aside from its positive and negative marketing aspects. As with David Bowie, with his glitter image and constant “changes,” Prince’s arresting persona enabled his public to accept (until “Around the World,” at least) his restless stylistic experimentation, his often brilliant attempts to blend black and white musical influences and every manner of rock, soul and disco.
Indeed, Prince’s success in overcoming musical and racial boundaries has not just directly (through his many proteges) and indirectly (through those he influenced) affected 1980’s popular music. He has also done much to lessen the de facto segregation of black artists that had arisen in the early 80’s on radio and in the televising of music videos.
“Under the Cherry Moon,” Prince’s second feature film and the first he’s directed himself, is scheduled for release July 2, and until then, certain aspects of the lyrics will remain obscure. The new soundtrack album begins with “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” and ends with “Sometimes It Snows in April,” a ballad with a lovely chromatic chorus, maudlin verses and “sincere” acoustic instrumentation in which Prince seems to be lamenting the death of “Tracy” in an overtly homoerotic manner. When one learns that Prince’s character in the film is Tracy himelf, however, homoeroticism turns into narcissism, with Prince lovingly crooning his own valedictory. The film is also set on the Cote d’Azur, with a French female star, which explains the occasional French lyrics, moaning French female love-talk and accordion-flavored chanson arrangements.
Apart from the chanson flavorings, there is psychedelia here, too – most overtly in the “Sgt. Pepper”-like opening of “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” – as well as continued examples of Prince’s tendency toward busy studio clutter overlaying a dance beat. There are also two songs co-written with his musician/ father, John L. Nelson, who once performed under the name Prince Rogers; Prince’s full name is Prince Rogers Nelson, and he has apparently had a complex relationship with his father – depicted in part in “Purple Rain.” The two co-written songs are the most psychedelic ones, suggesting that Mr. Nelson, who also co-wrote two songs on “Around the World,” may have helped point Prince in that direction.
But the most striking songs here are the tougher ones, those in which Prince chooses to play up the black side of his multifaceted musical sensibility. There’s the catchy “New Position” and the single, “Kiss,” with its stripped-down instrumentation and falsetto vocal. But above all there are two songs, the clear highlights of this album. “Anotherloverholenyohead” has an irresistible chorus, as sexy and kinetic and ingratiating as anything in “Purple Rain.” “Girls and Boys” is even better, full of delicious instrumental touches capped by a grunting, honking baritone saxophone solo.
In the future, such songs may conceivably slip into the minority of Prince’s output. From the first, sentimental ballads have seemed closer to his true spirit than the uptempo dance numbers. Prince may turn out to be a latter-day Elvis in more ways than one, renouncing the sexual flamboyance that won him his first success.
No doubt he will take more false steps – there can be no experimentation without them – and no doubt he will continue to annoy people who could, in the short run, help him along. Sometimes, like Stevie Wonder, he’ll put out second-rate music, and sometimes he’ll seem sentimental and dopey. But as a source of vernacular musical invention and deserving pop hits, he’s as good as we have. And “Parade” certainly succeeds in another of its intentions: it makes one eager to see the movie.
(New York Times, 03/30/1986)
Star Tribune, 03/30/1986
Prince // `Parade’ is marketing savvy test
By Jon Bream
“Parade” – Prince ‘s new album that arrives in stores today – has the songs necessary for him to reestablish his claim to the rock throne. But the record may be more a test of his marketing acumen than his musical genius.
This is Prince’s third album of new material in 20 months. That kind of saturation of the marketplace by a pop-music superstar is unheard of these days. In fact, no multimillion-selling recording artist has been so prolific since the heyday of the Beatles 20 years ago. The prevailing marketing wisdom of today says that superstars are supposed to make a splash and then play hard to get for a while to create greater demand for their next project as well as rejuvenate their muse.
But Prince plays by his own rules. And as long as his Midas touch continues, the executives at Warner Bros. Records in Burbank, Calif., trust the instincts of the Minneapolis-based rock and film star.
Prince exploded in 1984 with “Purple Rain” – the album sold more than 10 million copies; the $7 million film of the same name grossed more than $65 million in theaters and the videocassette of the movie sold more than a half-million copies. Then only nine months after the release of “Purple Rain,” Prince followed with the album “Around the World in a Day” accompanied by no advertising whatsoever. The record sold 3 1/2 million copies, a disappointing figure to his Napoleonic ego but one that pleased Warner Bros.
Now, a mere 11 months later, Prince is bouncing back with another album that’s tied to a movie. However, unlike “Purple Rain,” “Parade” is not a movie sound track, which is why it carries the subtitle of “Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon.” Yet the cross-promotion of the two properties will be inescapable and advance of the album release; a billboard even went up in downtown Minneapolis; the press-shy Prince will be featured on the cover of the next issue of Rolling Stone; and he granted a rare interview for a coming issue of Ebony. After the album entices Prince’s fans, the movie will open in early July with a worldwide concert tour probably starting at the same time.
It’s all geared to make a big splash and big bucks. It’s a safe bet that “Parade,” which has three killer singles, will sell 2 million to 3 million copies; if the movie is triumphant, that could double sales of the album. That’s why marketing decisions seem as important to Prince as musical ones. And that’s why “Parade” may seem artistically unfocused – he simply had too many marketing bases to cover. Furthermore, he writes songs at such a prodigious clip and in so many different styles that he can always find an outlet for his tunes via other recording artists such as the Bangles (“Manic Monday”) or more likely those in his own Royal Court, Sheila E. and Mazarati.
In fact, “Kiss,” Prince’s current smash single, was originally written and intended for Mazarati. He gave the instrumental tracks to the band, according to sources in the Mazarati camp, and producer Mark Brown and engineer David Rivkin began tailoring it for that group. Then Prince reclaimed the song, finished recording it himself and put it on “Parade.”
It turned out to be a prudent move for him. “Kiss” jumped to No. 3 on Billboard’s pop chart this week, and it seems destined to go to the top. It’s also a big sensation in the dance clubs and the black-music chart, where it reached No. 1 this week.
Arranged by Rivkin, “Kiss” is a striking rhythmic workout, sounding like vintage James Brown adapted to contemporary synthesizers.
It’s funky and sexy, and distinctively Prince with his trademark minimalist electronic funk, rediscovered falsetto and preoccupation with sex. However, this time he has figured out he can be more artistic and titillating by keeping his trenchcoat on and avoiding the Rabelaisian detail of his “Dirty Mind” album.
The quick, huge success of “Kiss” should ensure rapid sales of “Parade.” What listeners will find is a dizzying pastiche of the kind of psychedelic pop of last year’s “Around the World in a Day,” irresistible bare-bones funk, Hollywood-flavored sound-track compositions that seem atypical of Prince and none of the bracing rock and Jimi Hendrix-styled guitar work associated with “Purple Rain.”
Yet, like “Around the World,” “Parade” is neither revolutionary nor ground-breaking. If nothing else, it will certainly reestablish Prince ‘s reign over the funk and dance kingdoms, the disciples of which he may have alienated with last year’s trippy, spiritual and kaleidoscopic “World.” Three “Parade” tunes are definitely in the pocket, as they say in soul music circles. Beyond “Kiss,” there’s “Girls and Boys” and “Anotherloverholenyohead.”
“Girls and Boys” seems like the final part of the trilogy Prince started with “Erotic City” and “A Love Bizarre,” which he wrote for Sheila E. The song has all the tricks – sly funk set to spare synthesizer rhythms, a slinky saxophone and funky guitar intertwining with the drums, soulful vocals in his middle register, falsetto scat singing with female harmonies, plenty of French words (“Under the Cherry Moon” was filmed in France), and a brief rap section.
“Anotherloverholenyohead” can’t miss on the dance and black-music charts. It’s Stevie Wonder meets Sly Stone with a tough bass line, a string-section passage and hip-hop scratch sounds rendered by rhythm machines.
Wonder, Stone and Brown aren’t the only inspirations that Prince acknowledged on “Parade.” There’s even a bit of Michel Legrand evident on such obvious sound-track fare as “Venus de Milo,” an instrumental that closes the first side. The album’s opening number, the slightly psychedelic “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” with its “strawberry lemonade,” and the ballads “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Sometimes It Snows in April” are also connected to Prince’s new movie. If the film becomes immensely successful, don’t be surprised if “April,” a romantic, melancholic ballad accompanied chiefly by a piano and acoustic guitar, becomes Prince’s first middle-of-the-road hit.
Despite its fun and funk, “Parade,” in the end, comes across as a very solitary album. That’s apparent from the bare-bones sound and the often lonely tone to the black-and-white cover photos of Prince. This is clearly more of a solo effort than a band effort like Prince’s last three LPs. Maybe the song that best and most fittingly capsulizes “Parade” is “Under the Cherry Moon” from the black-and-white movie. It’s a piano number with a funky blues-jazz break and subtle string section accompaniment. In a sad, sometimes quavering voice, Prince sings, “I want to live life to the ultimate high/Maybe I’ll die young like heroes die.”
Either that or he’ll rebound with another album by early next year.
(Star Tribune, 03/30/1986)
New Musical Express, 04/12/1986
Sometimes it pisses down in April
By Barney Hoskyns
I took ‘Kiss’ as a signal that we were being ushered back into the compressed, airtight funkworld of ‘Dirty Mind’. Didn’t flip over the song itself – slick metronome sexgospel – but what a relief to hear that funky, flecked, flicking guitar again.
It turns out we’re not going back to that springy, spunky sound after all – ‘Kiss’ is on its own as a throwback to ‘Head’ and ‘Party Up’ and ‘Do It All Night’. Not that Prince doesn’t still have a filthy little mind, of course, just that these days he doesn’t speak it quite so economically. It’s all mixed he doesn’t really know how to express, and that’s become a drag.
A few things have changed since ‘Around The World In A Day’, it’s true. For starters, there are no printed lyrics, so i don’t have to pretend to have given his twee and icky poems my most careful consideration. Then for seconds there’s no purple or paisley stuff on the sleeve – just plain ol’ black and white narcissim (another throwback to ‘Dirty Mind’). Most important, Prince isn’t being such a sourpuss primadonna anymore. There I was thinking the little mulatto Amadeus was on the edge of a breakdown and suddenly he’s all happy and relaxed and flirty in the ‘Kiss’ video.
Trouble is, I actually think ‘Around The World In A Day’ was the better record. For all its neo-psychedelic silliness it had three great songs, which is about three more than ‘Parade’ has – nothing here as witty as ‘Pop Life’, as mournful as ‘America’, or as anguished as ‘Condition Of The Heart’. The worst thing about Prince’s “maturity’, if we can call it that, is that he has given up writing great songs – songs like ‘When You Were Mine’ – as a matter of course. I mean, if he can find time to bestow a morsel like ‘Manic Monday’ on four desperate California chicks who will probably never have another hit record in their lives, surely he could craft the odd decent tune for himself.
Prince, instead of writing simple, succinct, sexy songs, is always trying to save the world, which means that he is never content with anything but grandiose ‘Sgt Pepper’ albums where all the songs run into each onther and vast orchestras make a lot of superfluous noise. He is a master architect of sound but he will show off and spoil it all. His Rundgren-esque technosoup of Sly and Stevie Wonder is beginning to get very predictable.
The LP opens with ‘Christopher Tracy’s Parade’, a typical fanfare for his highness ‘Disneyland soundscape and pretty much a follow-through from the ambience of ‘Paisley Park’. Who this tracy fellow is I don’t know, though going by the closing elegy of ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’, I would guess that he is a deceased pal of the Minneapolitan midget’s.
‘New Position’ follows with steel drums, a hard pop-funk beat, and yer basic lewd double entendre. Guitarist Wendy picks up for the strange, brief interlude of ‘I Wonder U’ (performances seem more democratically delegated this time around: P. isn’t being such a spoilt-brat autocrat in his studio playpen) which slides swiftly into ‘Under The Cherry Moon’, title track of the unpromising-sounding flick for which this LP purports to be a soundtrack. I have seen many moons in my time, but never a cherry moon – how about you ? The song is a kind of kurt Weill lullaby co-authored by (Prince Sr ?) John L. Nelson.
Next up, ‘Girls And Boys’ is an adolescent ‘Lady Marmalade’ replete with “sauce” French bits and set to the beat of ‘Take Me With U’. ‘Life Can Be So Nice’ bypasses me completely – a highspirited mess – before ‘Venus De Milo’ trails away at Side One’s end as a slight sliver of mood-muzak, grand piano plus sweeping strings and reeds.
Flip the disc and we’re straight back into Prince’s booming sytnh beat on ‘Mountains’, which is a pounding Stevie Wonder/ Earth Wind And Fire epic. The Jazzy, smoochy ‘Do U Lie ?’ is a pleasant and slinky respite from such pomp.
‘Kiss’ then takes its isolated place in the remorseless parade of overdone semi-ideas, followed by the melodically beguiling ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’ (yes, it is a stupid title, isn’t it). Finally, the showpiece ballad, ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ (an even worse title) ends the record on a folksy acoustic noteand mourns the aforesaid departed Tracy. I feel that Prince is, on the whole, best at this most sentimental and foppishly despolate, but this is appalling kitsch and doesn’t work at all.
I dunno. Is it possible, or even advisable, to take Prince seriously ? Do I have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude ? I find this record laboured and trite and self-satisfied and won’t be listening to it again.
(New Musical Express, 04/12/1986)
Philadelphia Daily News, 04/15/1986
AN ALBUM OF REASONS TO RAIN ON PRINCE’S ‘PARADE’
By Jonathan Takiff
Prince’s career has been built on provocation – on challenging the values and expectations of the pop-music-buying public. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that his new album, “Parade,” finds the Minneapolis maverick on the move again – with an eccentric brew that is at turns minimalist and exotically lush, familiar and otherworldly, sometimes sublime and at other times pretty stupid.
“Parade” is the soundtrack for Prince’s next film, “Under the Cherry Moon,” in which he not only stars but makes his directorial debut. But even with it’s suggestive come-on – a half-naked cover photo of the androgynous poster boy – and at least one certified hit single in “Kiss,” the score is not the sort that will send millions marching to their record counters or movie theaters, as the enormously popular “Purple Rain” soundtrack accomplished for His Royal Badness.
That 10-million-selling LP represented Prince at his most commercial, churning out gallons of wham-bam thank-you-ma’am hyperkinetic funk rock. And, miracle upon miracles, the confessional, autobiographical thrust of the “Purple Rain” score perfectly matched the “troubled child/troubled musician” film plot built around Prince’s own life. So the “Purple Rain” lyrics functioned effectively as that film’s script, carrying the tissue-paper-thin story along.
But the introductory “Parade” now marching through for “Under the Cherry Moon” (not due to hit movie theaters until July, and sure to be featured in Prince’s next stage show this summer) is a different, vague and ultimately unsatisfying work, that doesn’t stand nearly so well by itself.
Unconventionally conventional by current rock movie production standards, the “Parade” music is almost traditional movie scoring. It is largely background music that sets the scene, heightening the sense of atmosphere without intruding much.
Especially color-coordinated is the French cafe sound of wheezing accordions, tinkling piano and drunken horns, placing Prince’s film character in context. In “Under the Cherry Moon” he’s playing a down-on-his-heels piano player on the French Riviera who crashes a party and puts the make on a French heiress. Oooh, la-la!
“It’s a boy-meets-girl love story, a kind of Pygmalion in reverse. Instead of making a high-society dame out of a tramp, it’s about a man trying to loosen up a high-society dame,” explains Prince’s backup singer Lisa in a Rolling Stone interview.
The movie’s theme song, co-authored by Prince and his father John L. Nelson, sounds like something out of a Marlene Dietrich picture from the 1930s or ’40s. Very Euro. Very retro.
Even more old fashioned is the vaudeville shuffle “Do U Lie,” done up with wah-wah horns and Prince mouthing through an old-fashioned megaphone. It’s so kitschy cute you could just throw up. Let’s just pray the music serves a sarcastic point in the pic.
The father-and-son Nelson team are likewise responsible (and to blame, I’m afraid) for the vapid introductory “Christopher Tracy’s Parade,” which sets up the picture as a poorer man’s “Magical Mystery Tour.” The overblown production on this track arranged by Clare Fisher in pseudo-George Martin fashion tries to make a mountain out of this molehill with watery strings and horns, discordant notes and backward tape loops, but the fussy effort backfires, badly.
Other songs, by contrast, appear so minimially arranged that one might suspect they are rough rhythm tracks someone simply forgot to finish. On “New Position,” Prince’s voice is surrounded with nothing but female backup singers and percussion – a drum machine and tropical steel drums.
“I Wonder U” threatens to go further with its African polyrhythms, bits of flute and plunkety guitar, but disintegrates too quickly, seeming only a song fragment.
Things pick up when Prince falls into his more familiar (and still controversial) role of sexual provocateur, heating up his sound with the same old kick/jump hustle that’s kept America dancing vertically and horizontally through the 1980s.
“Girls and Boys” is a simple pickup bar scenario, modified here by Prince’s use of Indian finger cymbals and hand claps as the sole rhythm section, and some hot spoken verbiage in French.
“Kiss,” the set’s 600,000-selling hit single, kicks up a dust cloud with its odd lot of thwumps and squeaks, allusions to TV shows, rusty old comic put-downs, exotic Turkish and jazz allusions and especially Prince’s squeally, ecstatic, little-girl’s falsetto voice. But as hits go, “Kiss” is the only sure shot on this list.
There’s no lyric sheet with the “Parade” album, and I suspect it’s because Prince is ashamed of most of the words. The lyrics seem even more of a rush job than the music, which is saying a lot. And meaning “a little.” Consider these pearls from the Princely pen: “Life can be so nice, wonderful world, paradise. Kiss me once, kiss me twice.”
Pulitzer Prize material, this is not, but at least the ditty’s got a good beat. And if we’re lucky, somebody will be talking over it in the movie.
(Philadelphia Daily News, 04/15/1986)
Rolling Stone, 04/24/1986
PRINCE STRIPS DOWN
By Davitt Sigerson
Who but Prince fills us today with the kind of anticipation we once reserved for new work by Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? Happily, following the commercial and creative letdown of Around the World in a Day (cleverly presented as his Personal Statement record), Parade: Music from ‘Under the Cherry Moon’ bears the weight of intense hope and scrutiny as lightly as its maker wears the satin capes he favors.
Prince has made it his task to shock us: his work sounds so inevitable we can no longer identify what it was that first surprised us. He did this on “When Doves Cry.” Was it simply the omission of bass guitar or the retention of a single line of melody for verse and chorus? The answer lies in the way it was assembled; the result is that most of us can remember where we were and what we were doing the first time we heard it.
“When Doves Cry” and Purple Rain, the blockbuster it introduced, weren’t even Prince’s best work. That had been achieved one record before – on 1999. A febrile double album of extended dance pieces, it featured his best song, “Little Red Corvette,” and an example of his musical wit, “1999.” A lover of sixties pop, he built “1999” around the central riff of the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday, Monday.” To complete this tribute-by-triangulation, Prince has now written for the Bangles “Manic Monday,” which bears a melody almost identical to “1999” but omits the founding riff that would link it to its original source.
This is the degree of energy and intelligence we have come to expect from Prince. This is the promise he has once again kept – on Parade. Like Purple Rain, the new album is a soundtrack (for the forthcoming Under the Cherry Moon) and is preceded by the stunning “Kiss.” The single has been mistaken as a return to the music of his Dirty Mind period. In fact, it is made with a sparseness and – most surprising to the ear – an absence of reverb that bespeak years of learning. Rhythmically, “Kiss” is funk; harmonically, it is rhythm & blues; lyrically, it proves Prince is crossing yet another frontier, into emotional maturity.
The petulant baby – first trumpeting a purported sexuality and then expecting us to care about a so-called spiritual rejuvenation – is no more. Not that Prince wasn’t intelligent enough to say interesting things all along, between the nonsense. Usually, though, sex was his code word for a kind of achievement in which the gratification of voyeur and audience defined success. This explains the curious the curious lack of love, or even motivation, in Prince’s sex songs. Dirty Mind’s “Sister,” for example, isn’t a song about making love to one’s sister; it’s a song about making love in which the female seducer is cast as the protagonist’s sister, much as a pornographer might create a fantasy to titillate his audience. “Sister” is not about what it claims to be about, and neither incites nor shocks.
What really shocks, of course, is the aural landscape of records like “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss.” We all may have dirty minds, but few of us are visionaries. In the arrangements on Parade, it is Prince’s vision to that is paraded: a simple Weillen waltz like “Under the Cherry Moon” proves an excuse for all manner of orchestral invention; when Prince says on “New Position,” “You’ve got to try my new funk,” believe him. In “New Position,” on “Kiss” and above all in the sensational “Girls & Boys,” Prince conceives a clean, diamond-hard style that could spawn years of imitations.
Far from the funk of Dirty Mind, this style springs from an understanding f orchestration, rather than the innate ability to jam on rhythm instruments. On Parade, all sounds – snippets of guitar, horn, percussion, voice – are treated equally, erasing the line between “basic track” and “sweetening.” Prince has achieved the effect of a full groove using only the elements essential to a listener’s understanding – and so has devised a funk completed only by the listener’s response.
Thanks to Under the Cherry Moon, we get the title song, “Sometimes It Snows in April” and “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”; thanks to shooting in France, we get the French touches in “Girls & Boys” and “Do U Lie?” But the growth in Prince’s lyrics isn’t because maturity is written into the film script. On Parade, sex and love sound real, and perhaps for the first time, they sound related. He’s made the adult discovery – or is it an admission? – that the people you care about can be the people who turn you on the most. “Kiss” even offers something of a manifesto: in lines like “Women not girls rule my world,” “U don’t have 2 watch Dynasty 2 have an attitude” and “U can’t be 2 flirty mama I know how 2 undress me,” Prince smiles at his old ways. On another track, he serves notice that he’s “got 2 try a new position.”
If Parade harks back to Dirty Mind, it is less in the surface similarities of the falsetto funk style than in its freedom from thematic pretensions. Prince has given us three successive concept albums – first the unintended masterpiece 1999; next the Cinerama extravaganza Purple Rain, where his exertions occasionally drowned out his intentions; and finally the con job Around the World in a Day, when he summoned craft and packaging to bridge the creative chasm he faced. Having gathered enough laurels on which to rest comfortably forevermore, Prince wants to have some fun with music, or as he puts it, to “go fishing in the river, the river of life.” What better time for a new baptism?
(Rolling Stone, 04/24/1986)
The Village Voice, 1986
Prince and the Revolution: Parade
By Robert Christghau
Musically, this anything but retro fusion of Fresh’s foundation and Sgt. Pepper’s filigrees is nothing short of amazing. Only the tin-eared will overlook the unkiltered wit of its pop-baroque inventions, only the lead-assed deny its lean, quirky grooves, both of which are so arresting that at first you don’t take in the equally spectacular assurance with which the singer skips from mood to mood and register to register. I just wish the thing weren’t such a damn kaleidoscope: far from unifying its multifarious parts, its soundtrack function destroys what little chance the lyrics have of bringing it together. Christopher is Prince, I guess, but nothing here tempts me to make sure. I’d much rather find out whether the former Rogers Nelson really takes all this trouble just so he can die and/or make love underneath whatever kind of moon, or if he has something less banal in mind.
(The Village Voice, 1986)
This paragraph contains reviews regarding the Under The Cherry Moon movie. I own only one physical copy of the reviews. The rest are text-only.
Detroit Free Press, 07/03/1986
NERVY PRINCE RETURNS WITH A STYLISTIC SMASH
It takes a lot of nerve to set a picture on the French Riviera and then shoot it in black and white.
And Prince, bless him, has a lot of nerve.
“Under the Cherry Moon,” his second film (the first, “Purple Rain,” won him an Oscar and grossed more than $80 million), is a stylistic smash.
Its substance leaves something to be desired, true. But fine-looking fun backed by choice music by Prince and the Revolution is quite enough to guarantee most audiences a couple of good hours.
Basically, “Cherry Moon” is the story of a gigolo who falls in love with an heiress and gives it all up for love.
Shot in France around Nice and Cap d’Antibes, some of the world’s priciest and most beautiful scenery backgrounds this story of nightclub pianist Christopher Tracy (Prince), his best friend Tricky (Jerome Benton) and a couple of Miami boys in Nice for a little discreet gold-digging.
When Tricky spots a newspaper photo of Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott-Thomas) – and the story of her 21st birthday inheritance – he and Christopher crash the party. After that, it’s a battle of love, with the couple opposed by Christopher’s favorite client (Francesca Annis), Mary’s nervous mother and nasty father, and the combined forces of Nice’s police and coast guard.
Prince IS apparently as hardheaded as filmmaker Barbra Streisand about getting his way. When original director, Mary Lambert, left the picture a few weeks into the shooting, Prince took over her chores. After the film wrapped, unhappy with some of the scenes, Prince returned to Nice and reshot them. He has done respectable work: He finished the picture; he produced an entertainment that, while limited, is as good as much of the stuff cranked out by longtime professionals, and he got to do it the way he wanted.
But, you may ask, can Prince act?
Not yet, at least not on a regular basis. But whenever he’s not pouting or vamping a la Valentino, he’s infinitely better than he was in “Purple Rain.”
The look of the picture is its biggest strength – contemporary, yes, but with a distinct feel for the ’40s. For that, audiences can again thank Prince, who had the good sense to hire cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, a Werner Fassbinder graduate who worked with John Sayles and Martin Scorsese. Ballhaus also filmed Volker Schlondorf’s stunning television version of “Death of a Salesman.” Backing Ballhaus is production designer Richard Sylbert, the man responsible for the visual style of “Chinatown” and “The Cotton Club.”
Kristin Scott-Thomas, the English actress plays the heiress Christopher tames (Prince has not yet entirely outgrown his bad-boy attitude toward women.). She does very nicely in her film debut, so long as she doesn’t have to look dreamy and recite Christopher’s poetry. And Prince’s pal Benton is bearable, albeit slightly less than three-dimensional, as Tricky.
The plot gets embarrassingly over-dramatic near the end – this isn’t supposed to be Shakespeare, for heaven’s sake – but, all things considered, Prince deserves to take a bow. And, no doubt, he will.
RATING: 5 out of 10
(Detroit Free Press, 07/03/1986)
New York Times, 07/03/1986
SCREEN: PRINCE IN ‘CHERRY MOON’
By Walter Goodman
For all those out there who can’t get enough of Prince, “Under the Cherry Moon” may be just the antidote. In addition to starring in the part of a gigolo-piano player in gilt threads who finds love, the rock celebrity who likes to dress up also directed and collaborated on the music. (His album, “Parade: Music From ‘Under the Cherry Moon'” was released in March, so the movie, which opens today at the Criterion and other theaters, can be thought of as incidental pictures.) It’s in black and white – you know, homage to the B films of the 1940’s; well, maybe B-minus – and is set on the French Riviera, as conceived by a fan of fan magazines. Everybody in the glitter set seems to love Chris, the gigolo, though not as much as he loves himself. He falls for a poor little rich girl (Kristin Scott-Thomas, who turns in quite an appealing performance under the circumstances), and after some awkward banter, she falls back. He speaks execrable verse to her to prove his sincerity. But her ruthless father is put off by seeing his lovely daughter in the arms of this peculiar young man, as what sane father would not, and in the end Prince is able to direct himself in a death scene.
Prince is in the moue-moue tradition of acting; the lips do a lot of the work, abetted by tongue and teeth. The screenplay by Becky Johnston is an adolescent’s notion of sophisticated badinage: “Christopher, do you love me?” “Define love.” Or, “He likes to collect things – including people.”
In asking the audience to believe that the womanly Miss Scott-Thomas and the lovely Francesca Annis, as yet another conquest, would have anything to do with a self-caressing twerp of dubious provenance like Chris, “Under the Cherry Moon” asks rather too much. More convincing is his affection for Jerome Benton, a member of the Prince and the Revolution rock group, as his pal Tricky, who also likes to dress up when he isn’t hanging around shirtless to show off his adorable chest.
(New York Times, 07/03/1986)
Philadelphia Daily News, 07/03/1986
A BATTY PRINCE ON THE RIVIERA
By Joe Baltake
The difference between the superstar’s first two films is that “Purple Rain” is a psychological/autobiographical glorified rock video starring Prince and the Revolution, while his new one, “Under the Cherry Moon,” is a movie starring Prince, period.
Actually, it’s several movies – part Antonioni, part Howard Hawks, part Andy Warhol, part whatzit – all jumbled together and seemingly based on the mental landscape of its kinetic, eccentric, self-consciously lascivious star. I’ve seen “Under the Cherry Moon,” I enjoyed it enormously, but I haven’t quite figured out what it’s supposed to be. Still, I like it.
This overall murkiness, which probably will be exaggerated by the detractors of “Purple Rain,” is what gives the film its vulnerable charm, along with the film’s moody tug-of-war with itself: Prince’s distinctly modernist presence never seems to be quite welcome by his own film’s nostalgic Art Deco elements. This unease gives the movie a timelessness, a feeling of being out-of-place with itself, that’s hugely affecting.
It took some time for me to catch on, settle back and enjoy it. “Under the Cherry Moon” gets off to a rather creepy start with just about everyone behaving as if he is a vampire in one of those once-trendy Warhol/Paul Morrissey horror collaborations. When bats appear in one scene – in a cabaret, no less – the joke is made clear: This is Prince’s portrait of the expatriate as a young zombie. After the bats appear, liberating everyone, the film itself perks up.
It could have been titled “Two Gals in Paris,” only in this case, we get two guys – Prince and sidekick Jerome Benton – and they’re in Nice, on the Cote d’Azur, not in Paris. The boys, gigolos hoping to sponge off the jet set and get rich themselves, are simply male variations of the characters that Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell played in Hawks’ “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.”
Prince is Christopher Tracy, a boy who entertains nightly in a piano bar and dares to fall in love with a swell (Kristin Scott-Thomas), much to her parents’ chagrin, and he plays the part with a mixture of his usual wild-eyed randiness and a certain ’40ish insouciance.
The film’s dramatic structure – its simple narrative and simple psychology and sociology – is merely a matter of the girl’s parents trying to keep this dapper punk away from their daughter and the kids searching for a place to be alone.
There’s no question in my mind that Prince is playing Marilyn Monroe here (at times, he has the same sweet, startled, slightly addled innocence) or that the speedboat escape at the end looks like the final scene from “Some Like it Hot
I’ve mentioned a lot of films and filmmakers here and, no, Prince the director is not able to make all of them hold together. But at least, “Under the Cherry Moon” isn’t a trendy retread.
Word leaked out a few weeks ago that “Under the Cherry Moon” was something of a stinker. Horsefeathers! It’s unique, by far the boldest film of the summer.
(Philadelphia Daily News, 07/03/1986)
San Jose Mercury News, 07/03/1986
THIS STAR NEEDN’T BE BORNE UNDERNEATH PRINCE’S NEW CLOTHES, ‘CHERRY MOON’ IS THE SAME OLD SONG
By Glenn Lovell
Prince (ne Prince Rogers Nelson) is back! In his own movie! As director, composer and gay-blade star! It’s called “Under the Cherry Moon” (now playing)! Quick, someone get the hook and jerk this guy so far off screen he winds up back in his old Minneapolis neighborhood!
Before anyone sends up fireworks announcing the arrival of a young auteur to rival the brash, young Orson Welles, I should add that “Cherry Moon” isn’t much of any kind of movie.
Basically, it’s a black-and-white travelogue/home movie that should be subtitled: “How I Spent My Free Time Last Year Between Record-Breaking Concert Tours.” There are two or three other people top-billed with Prince, but guess who gets all the looming, lip-pursing, Vaseline-coated closeups? It’s not French co-star Kristin Scott-Thomas, making her movie debut as a spoiled-brat heiress. The last time I can remember such an outrageous, unmitigated display of narcissism was when Barbra Streisand discovered she could do it all, and crank out celluloid monuments to herself, like “A Star is Born.”
In his first screen role since the amateurish but undeniably provocative “Purple Rain,” Prince plays an American gigolo/lounge performer camped on the French Riviera, where he hopes to sweet talk the willful Mary (Scott-Thomas) into marriage and a joint bank account. The girl’s father (veteran thug Steven Berkoff) has other ideas, and quickly dispatches his three hulking stooges.
Prince’s palsy-walsy roommate and partner in fraud is named “Tricky.” He’s played by Jerome Benton, a member of Prince’s backup band, the Revolution, and also a supporting player in “Purple Rain.” Benton is an odd combination of street swagger and giddy childishness.
Which is more than can be said for Prince, who, under mascara and various beaded caps, has never been prissier or more androgynous. At times he appears to be doing his impression of Theda Bara as silent-movie vamp. Elsewhere, he can be found playing a silver-tongued Cyrano/Romeo, an undulating Charo, an escapee from a Ken Russell drag show, and a wise-guy expatriate fated to go the way of Bogart in “Casablanca” and Charles Boyer in “Algiers.”
And when he’s not doing these acts, he’s plays one of the boys, presumably to prove he can play one of the boys.
The best – well, most charming – scenes appear improvisational afterthoughts. There’s a moment when Prince, boasting nerves of steel, is scared out of his wits by bats clinging to the ceiling of a bar. There’s also Prince’s jive-talk analysis of his girlfriend. Here, the star borrows from the young, constantly exasperated Richard Pryor.
The soft-focus cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and art- deco-ish interiors by Oscar-winning production designer Richard Sylbert give the film a dreamy, Fellini-esque quality. Prince also has fun with purposely blown sound cues. His way of spoofing traditional MGM musicals?
As for the new Prince compositions – the chart-topping “Kiss,” among them – they’re indifferently laid over the action. Prince has only one conventional production number, where he wows the Cote d’Azur swells by making like Gene Kelly atop a grand piano.
If you make it to the bitter end of this less-than-cherry “Moon,” stick around a few minutes longer. There’s a full-fledged video of Prince’s “Mountains” behind the end credits. It’s more exciting than anything that goes before.
(San Jose Mercury News, 07/03/1986)
Chicago Tribune, 07/04/1986
PRINCE IN OVER HIS HEAD WITH ‘UNDER THE CHERRY MOON’
By Lynn Van Matre
“Purple Rain,” the overrated, semi-autobiographical film that marked the acting debut of bantyweight rock star and self-styled sex symbol Prince, was blessed with a catchy sound track that covered a multitude of cinematic sins. No such luck with “Under the Cherry Moon,” Prince’s sophomore effort, in which he stars and directs with near-terminal narcissism.
The real marvel of this tiresome outing is that Prince manages to not only stand but also walk and actually run in the everpresent spike-heeled boots that he wears to bring him within smooching distance of the lips of his leading lady-even though he falls flat on his face otherwise.
“Cherry Moon,” shot in black and white because Prince (a press release explains) wanted to “capture the romance and drama of ’40s movies,” finds the singer playing Christopher Tracy, a supposedly irresistible gigolo piano player in a Parisian club. (While the role would seem to indicate that Prince is working to shore up his masculine image, frequent bits of gay schtick with his roommate and fellow fortune-hunter, Tricky – played by Jerome Benton – add a puzzling note to the proceedings.)
“Once upon a time, in France, there lived a bad boy named Christopher,” a voice intones at the beginning of the film, as the camera caresses Prince’s face while he makes google-eyes at a soignee female club patron, who is inexplicably smitten by his bad Valentino imitation and, even more incomprehensibly, apparently willing to shell out for the pleasure of his arrogant, preening company. “He lived for all women, but he died for one.”
So, okay, right away we pick up on the fact that this dude is doomed. But then again, anybody who attempts to foist a film this absurd and self-congratulatory on the public deserves to get it.
The plot of this simultaneously predictable and preposterous exercise in Princely egotism revolves around Prince’s romance with a young heiress named Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott-Thomas), a woman he and Tricky originally regarded as an easy mark for their fortune-hunting activities. The pair crash Mary’s 21st birthday party and Prince and the Birthday Girl strike up a love-hate relationship right away.
From then on, it’s just a matter of time before Prince decides to leave the gigolo life for True Love with Mary. His decision doesn’t sit well with Tricky, who wants a cut of the action, or with Mary’s authoritarian dad, who understandably pales at the idea of the family fortune winding up in the hands of a gigolo. Tricky deals with the situation by getting drunk. Dad, more resourceful, dispatches goons, and the film moves toward its predictable finale.
“We had fun, didn’t we?” asks Prince at the end, just before he goes to heaven. It’s nice that somebody did.
(Chicago Tribune, 07/04/1986)
Los Angeles Times, 07/04/1986
A MISBEGOTTEN ‘MOON’ FROM PRINCE
By Patrick Goldstein
Prince is one of pop music’s most gifted and enigmatic figures. But talent and mystery are just two of the many key ingredients missing from “Under the Cherry Moon” (citywide), a dismal flop that will probably be Exhibit A for years to come in any debate over the wisdom of letting pop stars make their own vanity Hollywood projects.
Prince both stars in and directs the film, which was shot in black and white and (thanks to crack cinematographer Michael Ballhaus) has a sultry, film noir look that seems designed to recapture some of the glamour and romance of the pop idol’s favorite 1940s dramas. Unfortunately, none of this drama or romance ever manages to surface, even for a moment, in this misbegotten film. Most of the scenes are so awkward, so hopelessly inept that the whole affair looks like a student film that somehow inherited a multimillion-dollar budget.
Even with a sound track full of dazzling Prince originals, the movie has no real passion or fireworks. If “Purple Rain” gave us the thrill of seeing a film star born, then “Cherry Moon” has the dreary air of a star vehicle born under a bad sign-it might well be called “Under the Cherry Bomb.”
Prince is Christopher Tracy, an itinerant American piano player who does double duty as a gigolo, entertaining affluent vacationers along the French Riviera. The movie opens with Tracy at the piano, trying to seduce a rich divorcee (Francesca Annis), aided by Tricky (Jerome Benton), who slips his pal helpful hints on cocktail napkins. Tracy is a hustler who’s ready to reform and he meets his match in Mary Sharon (newcomer Kristin Scott-Thomas), a spoiled young heiress with a real sense of style-she greets her guests at her gala 21st birthday party clad only in a towel.
The rest might be straight out of the chapter of movie history titled “Addicted to Love.” Tracy turns up the heat and our ice princess’ heart melts. The only thing keeping these angels apart is Mary’s dastardly dad (Steven Berkoff), who’ll do anything to ruin their romance. In theory, with a dandy like Prince, who dwells in the land of erotic dreams, this could have been the start of a magnificent obsession. Instead, it’s the beginning of a resoundingly dull fashion parade.
Prince and his screenwriter, Becky Johnston, don’t have a clue on how to construct a compelling story line, much less a tragic love affair. (At one point, Mary actually sighs, “Christopher, I’m afraid.” Of what? “Of us.”) Worse still, there’s absolutely no chemistry between the love-struck pair. Watching them tango on a balcony over the sea, cooing woefully lame words of love, you find yourself more intrigued by Prince’s paisley outfit-you wonder which set of buttons really work, the ones on the front of the jacket, at the back or along his pants leg.
The film attempts to emphasize the gulf between this idle rich girl and her scruffy suitor, but Tracy is so pampered, self-absorbed and sleekly feline that it’s hard for the audience to imagine any rigid social barriers between them. Anyway, it’s hard to take a gigolo seriously who wears frilly, white threads that look as though they were made out of leftover material from Ginger Rogers’ feathery gown in “Top Hat.”
In “Purple Rain,” Prince played to his strengths, not only showing off his Stagger Lee stage magic, but revealing a glimpse of a troubled, vulnerable man-child, tormented as much by his rakish charms as by his adolescent fury. Here, Prince clumsily tries to show another side, the exuberant imp. But without anyone on the set to provide a fresh perspective (the film’s original director, Mary Lambert, was fired early in the shooting), Prince falters badly.
His comedy scenes with Benton play like bad improv sketches, with Prince coming off like a second-rate Morris Day and Benton like a loutish buffoon. Coated with thick makeup, a spit-curl positioned over his left eye, Prince often appears more prissy than paramour. He’s so full of twitchy, self-conscious gestures that you never feel any jolt of sexual tension-it’s as if he studied the art of movie seduction by watching old Paul Lynde movies.
Prince clearly has more enchanting heroes-he makes a point of showing us that Tracy keeps a Miles Davis album propped up by his bed. But none of Davis’ sensuous cool rubs off on this ponderously dull picture. “Under the Cherry Moon” (MPAA-rated PG-13) doesn’t show us a star falling in love, just a guy who’s fallen in love with his act.
(Los Angeles Times, 07/04/1986)
New York Times, 07/13/1986
PRINCE’S ‘CHERRY MOON’ LACKS A GLOW
By Vincent Canby
“Once upon a time,” says the narrator at the beginning of “Under the Cherry Moon,” “there lived a bad boy named Christopher Tracy . . .”
This is the film’s way of introducing its would-be mythic hero, played by Prince, a small, slight young man who wears dangerously high heels. Prince, the Minneapolis-bred rock performer who made his movie debut in “Purple Rain,” now makes his directorial debut with “Cherry Moon,” for which he also wrote much of the music.
Dressed in a glittery, not-quite-seamless mix of James II, Elvis Presley, Nehru, Carmen Miranda and contemporary rock, his doe eyes set off by mascara and what could be Cleopatra’s own kohl, Christopher Tracy sits at a piano in an elegant Riviera supper club, apparently tickling the ivories himself. However, the scene has been so awkwardly framed that the audience may immediately suspect that Christopher Tracy’s hands are peeling potatoes, while somebody else plays an offscreen piano. There’s no doubt about what the rest of him is doing, at least, from the shoulders up.
While his kohl-lined eyes alternate between a look of boredom and one of possible interest, his generous mouth never stops working its own variations on expressions that have represented desire throughout the entire history of the cinema.
Frequently he purses his lips in the manner of Marilyn Monroe doing the “boop-boop-a-doop” parts of “I Wanna Be Loved by You” in “Some Like It Hot.” Sometimes he bites his lower lip, in what looks to be a lewdly comic recollection of the virginal Mary Pickford in “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” He sticks out his tongue – but discreetly – to moisten his upper lip. At other times, the mouth strains in those paroxysms of pleasure that have been used to equal effect by Rita Hayworth in “Gilda” and Georgina Spelvin in “The Devil in Miss Jones.”
Christopher Tracy is not exhausting himself in this fashion just for his own satisfaction. As “Under the Cherry Moon” starts, Christopher is playing his trade as musician-gigolo, putting on this particular show for a certain Mrs. Wellington, a ringside sybarite who makes it obvious that she’s willing to pay big francs for Christopher’s company. All of this is by way of a prologue. It happens before Christopher meets and falls fatally in love with Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott-Thomas), a beautiful, essentially sweet, international heiress, who’s the product of that heedless upper class that tramples on members of the proletariat, like Christopher Tracy, much in the way that Christopher has trampled on the hearts of that other proletariat – women.
Though “Under the Cherry Moon” is quite awful as movie making, it’s not without social significance, not because of what it actually says but because of what it wants to say. Like so much of our heavily merchandised rock culture, it assumes attitudes and manners that seem designed to shake up traditional American values (God, country and family) in order to make a buck. Subversion-as-mass entertainment has become big business.
Prince, as he’s being merchandised, is an all-American caution, a cleverly calculated joke, the flip side of the America that was being so relentlessly celebrated in New York last weekend. It was fitting to see “Under the Cherry Moon” on the afternoon of July 4, in a nearly empty theater at the Loew’s 84th Street Six, while the rest of the population was threatening to capsize Manhattan by crowding onto the West Side to watch the parade of tall ships go up the Hudson.
Other people were sitting (or standing) in various strategic locations around the city, overdosing on “America the Beautiful” and listening to celebrities, nobodies, ancients and tiny tykes talk earnestly about what American has meant to them. Those of us at Loew’s 84th Street were learning what America means to Prince.
Not for nothing is “Under the Cherry Moon” set on the French Riviera, seen not in the living color associated with today’s movies but in the black-and-white of some earlier, far-off time (and movie). The film is, as its narrator indicates, a fairy tale. It’s a romantic, wish-fulfilling dream full of reversals, not the least of which is the androgynous-looking Prince himself who, no matter how outrageous his sequined finery, always seems to be wearing it backward.
Prince’s Christopher Tracy is dainty. When he lifts his highball glass to his lips, the pinkie finger is extended. Women adore him and find him immensely satisfying in bed but, until he meets the millionairess, he can take women or leave them alone.
Christopher’s most important relationship is with his constant companion and general factotum, Tricky, well played by Jerome Benton (who’s also a member of Prince’s rock group, the Revolution). Tricky, like all second bananas in movies of this sort, is everything that Christopher isn’t. He’s rude, fast-talking and not shy about expressing his emotions.
At one point, there’s some badinage (a word I use with purpose – this movie is top-heavy with badinage) about Christopher and Tricky’s being brothers. Because Christopher’s skin is, as he puts it, “butterscotch” and Tricky’s is “chocolate,” he suggests that they must have had different fathers.
I don’t know how much logic “Under the Cherry Moon” will bear, but I take it that when they refer to themselves as brothers, they’re talking about a looser kind of brotherhood. The film’s most effective moments – and the funniest -have nothing to do with Christopher’s Romeo-and-Juliet affair with Mary Sharon, but with his life with Tricky and their friendship since childhood.
In their scenes together, the two men are no less androgynous than their costumes. When they camp it up and treat each other with tender loving care, their sexuality is intentionally made to seem ambiguous. Their behavior is another knowing affront to our forefathers’ expectations of traditional American manhood, white as well as black. It challenges the sexual stereotypes that rock music, more than any other single force in our society, has sought to break down, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse and, in the case of “Under the Cherry Moon,” for utter confusion.
“I don’t need friends,” Tricky says to Christopher during a slight spat. “I’m my own man, just like Liberace.”
I take it that, according to Becky Johnston’s screenplay, Tricky is sending himself up, not Liberace. Yet I don’t know what we’re supposed to make of a romantic movie in which the only sparks fly between the two best friends rather than between the lovers.
Sitting in a posh Cote d’Azur restaurant with Mary and Tricky, Christopher attempts to illustrate the gulf that separates him from the beloved Mary (who’s white) by humiliating her. He prints in bold letters on a napkin “WRECKA STOWE,” and then insists that she read the words at the top of her voice. She does several times, with increasing fury, as the other two double up with laughter. What do the words mean? Says Christopher, “If you wanted to buy a Sam Cooke album, where would you go?”
It’s the only scene in the movie with any impact. It’s the one moment when “Under the Cherry Moon” seems to come clean about what may possibly be on its mind, that is, what it’s like to live in a world in which you don’t quite fit. One response is to create a world that fits you, in which other people – the men who don’t wear mascara and the women who don’t fall all over the men who do -are the outsiders.
As a romantic movie idol, Prince is too self-absorbed to generate heat, and “Under the Cherry Moon” offers very little of the star doing what he does best – performing his own music, which is the energy that supported the narrative nonsense of “Purple Rain.”
Prince is all over the “Cherry Moon” soundtrack, but the pictures that accompany it look awfully wan. Michael Ballhaus’s black-and-white photography appears to be more washed out than is absolutely necessary under the brilliant Riviera sun. More important, Prince, when he’s not performing in his own world of music, seems to melt away into his costumes, like the Wicked Witch of the West. His gestures become parodies without any connection to the matters within the film.
The most invigorating aspect of the rock culture has been its enthusiastic effrontery. This is especially true of Prince. However, another movie like “Under the Cherry Moon” and Prince’s revolution will be over. The boldest moment in the movie is the star’s efforts to direct himself in a big death scene, which he flubs. He allows himself to fall – mortally wounded – in such a way that his shoes are in the center of the frame, and they’re more riveting than he is.
(New York Times, 07/13/1986)
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