Graffiti Bridge (1990)
Review by Gnoll
Prince Rogers Nelson made Hollywood remember his name with 1984’s Purple Rain, but left most critics in the cold with his follow-up, Under the Cherry Moon. His next film was a concert documentary entitled Sign O the Times, which earned him praise, albeit not for a dramatic role. So for Prince’s fourth feature film, he decided to go back to what brought him to the table, and make a sequel to his first film.
In actuality, a lot of people have never even heard of Graffiti Bridge, despite the fact that it was released theatrically. I was one of about 58 people nationwide who saw it in the theater, and on opening night nonetheless, and I remember being a little disappointed in it. Compared to Purple Rain and Cherry Moon, two films that I adored, it just didn’t seem to stand up. It had a pretty cool soundtrack, though, with the exception of a couple duds (including the title track, easily one of the worst songs Prince has ever written.)
Seventeen years later, I finally saw it again. And while a recent rewatching of Cherry Moon had me remembering it better the first time around, the opposite held true for this one. Graffiti Bridge is actually a pretty good movie — it just took me almost two decades to realize it.
Prince still plays the Kid, and Morris Day still plays, er, Morris Day, the Kid’s rival. It’s several years later, and The Kid now owns a nightclub in downtown Minneapolis, the Glam Slam. Morris has his own place, The Pandemonium, and has learned to piss flammable liquids. R&B legends George Clinton and Mavis Staples also appear with their own clubs, Clinton’s Club and Melody Cool, respectively. Outside of a few changes, it’s pretty much the exact same movie as Purple Rain. Boy meets girl (the lovely Ingrid Chavez, to whom this is her only screen credit, steps into Apollonia’s high heeled shoes as Aura), boy loses girl to rival, boy rocks harder than rival to win her heart. It’s not much of a story, but it’s pretty cool. All of these clubs appear to be on a dark, neon-lit soundstage, with shades of blue and red doing the majority of the shading. The other half of the film, however, is a complete 180 visually. The titular bridge, as you can probably guessed, is covered with bright graffiti, but sits in a fairy tale-like world of bright blue skies and soft, wispy clouds. People like to rip on Prince’s abilities behind the camera, but it can’t be a coincidence that the two features he directed are as visually impressive as they are.
Unlike Purple Rain, this is a real live musical — people like Mavis Staples and Tevin Campbell break out into song for no explicable reason, and Aura sings a duet with Morris and the Time before being slipped a mickey and later rescued by the Kid. The soundtrack this time contains songs by all the performers involved, so you do get to enjoy such cool ditties as The Time’s “Love Machine” and “Shake!” and Campbell’s “Round and Round” along with kickass Prince songs such as “Thieves in the Temple” and “Joy in Repetition”.
The Kid of 1990, by the way, is a lot more fun than the kid of 1984. Prince’s character in Purple Rain was kind of distant and introverted, but after achieving his success, Kid seems to relish his life. People complain that Prince is a terrible actor, but the contrast between his character here and the version from six years earlier makes me appreciate both roles more, if that makes any sense at all.
Obviously, it’s not a perfect movie. But it’s far better than it has any right to be, and it’s certainly better than the majority of critics deemed it to be upon its arrival in theaters. It’s not as good as Under the Cherry Moon, but it’s probably a better film than Purple Rain.