Director: Albert Magnoli
Starring: Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Olga Karlatos, Clarence Williams III, Jerome Benton
Story of Prince and The Time and their rivalry over Appollonia.
I had seen this several times when it was in theaters, but not since. This came out while I was a junior in high school, and the mania for Prince at the time was one of the defining aspects of my high school experience. I remember people walking around in full-length purple coats with hair teased up and shellacked and lots of lace and little gloves and buttons and studs and whatnot. Plus, Prince at the time was so scandalous, with titters rising up every time the radio would play the full-length “Erotic City” on the bus as we rode to school in the morning, the naughty word bleeped out. Oh dear.
My friend, however, a mere five years younger than me, has NEVER seen it, shocking as that is, and since he is much more into Prince than I am, and since he happened to have it at home when we were thinking of something to watch, there it was.
We open with the famous “Let’s Go Crazy” sequence. I have seen everything here a million times, but I had forgotten all the little edits of punky/new romantic-looking people in the crowd and Prince adjusting his eyelashes and hands on the mixing board. One of the things that’s amusing about Prince is that he seemed to create this whole society around him of people with a strong preference for lace and lingerie and huge puffy shirts, and as we see woman’s hand in a fingerless lace glove adjust the levels during the concert, it’s funny to imagine that he has some smokin’ female sound mixer who kicks the big middle-aged guy in a Skynrd T-shirt out of the chair and sits in the booth and monitors Prince’s levels.
During this sequence we see Morris Day of The Time at home with an Aunt Jemima kerchief tied around his head, and Appollonia pull up in a cab outside. She ditches her fare [she’s desperate!], gets a hotel room across the street, and heads over to the club, where she sneaks in past the Bear Icon bouncer and gives her name to a waitress, hoping to perform at the club. She lists her age as 19, although she totally looks 37.
So Appollonia is transfixed by Prince’s guitar solo [she moved to the city, checked to the hotel room and passed her contact info to club management in the final two minutes of the song], then is transfixed anew by Morris Day as he and The Time perform “Jungle Love.” She turns around to find Prince staring at her in a way that is supposed to be all “intense,” then he puts on his huge round mirrored John Lennon glasses and stands right behind her. By the time she can muster up an “I really liked your song, too,” he’s gone. So enigmatic, really.
So Prince rides home on his purple motorcycle, his diminutive size and outlandish getup [which now appears quite odd] causing my friend to exclaim “He’s like a little alien!” He goes in to find his father beating up his mother, and he tries to break them up and gets hit himself. Next thing we know, he’s back in the club and a waitress is giving him a song by Wendy and Lisa, members of his band, but he doesn’t want to listen to it because he’s a megalomaniac.
Next Morris and his lackey/servant Jerome are watching two girls [the other two from Vanity 6… apparently Vanity herself would have been in the Appollonia role—which would have been SO hot—but she didn’t want to do nudity], and Morris instructs them: “Let’s see some asses wiggling.” They oblige, and Morris and Jerome then step outside, where Morris is confronted by a woman who complains that he stood her up. Jerome stands next to her shaking his head, and I believe says something to the effect of “She just doesn’t get it.” Then he picks the woman up and throws her into a dumpster. I listened to part of the director/producer commentary and they say it was a toss-up as to whether to include this scene, but decided to because a quick shot of the woman standing up in the dumpster “softened it.” So you see people, it’s perfectly okay to treat women like literal garbage as long as they aren’t permanently injured by it. It all makes sense now.
But maybe that’s just not enough debasement of women for you. If that’s the case, you’re in luck! Appollonia stops by the club and encounters Prince [his name he is “the kid,” by the way], who asks her to give him a bracelet off her boot. He then takes it and walks off, refusing to give it back. So what does she do? She hops on the back of his bike and they go for a pastoral country ride. They stop by this lake and Prince tells her that she must “purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.” Appollonia, ever-ready to degrade herself for the promise of scoring a cute guy, strips down to her panties and jumps into the water. Prince then informs her that the body of water she just jumped into is not Lake Minnetonka. He then takes off on his motorcycle and makes her think he has left her to walk home, but circles back after a few minutes to give her a ride. When she lifts her leg to get on the bike, he guns the engine and pulls ahead. Then he does it again, and again, before finally letting her on. When she finally does get on the bike he makes a double-entendre about her being wet from the lake, but also her pussy being wet from how excited she is over the torture he just dished out, as he cheekily looks back and says “Don’t get the seat wet.”
Ladies, don’t you just LOVE emotional manipulation, cruel torment and sadistic teasing? Doesn’t just turn you ON? I know any of you fine women out there will relate to just how very arousing malicious torment can be.
Anyway, it was during this scene that my friend turned to me and exclaimed “Is there ANY EXPLANATION for what they’re wearing?” And the cold, hard, intractable fact is that no, there is not. During the lake torture scene he is wearing this odd black troubadour shirt with a huge white scarf draped around his shoulders. Earlier he was in this big white blousey thing with ruffled sleeves, which he later accessorized with his floor-length purple coat. There are also numerous shots of him kicking the gears of his motorcycle, during which you essentially see him wearing high heels. And none of this is to mention the huge shellacked mass of curly hair that rests atop his head. The strangeness is that we are to believe that he just walks around like this all the time, this is just his natural state, and no one blinks an eye at it. These outfits work while he’s in the club, but they appear quite jarring when set against more normal, everyday settings. When my friend asked me what we’re supposed to think about him dressing like this, my nearest guess was that we’re supposed to feel that he is so in touch with his own individuality to even notice what people think.
So then we have a fight with Wendy and Lisa where Prince refuses to play their song and finally insults them, talking to them through a little puppet. This puppet later also dispenses some advice to Prince on his people skills. Now, prince’s lips are not moving, so either we are to understand that he is a professional-level ventriloquist, or he has formed a fully-developed alternate personality in his head that speaks to him through the medium of puppets. Since the director says that they overdubbed the voice later, I guess we are to understand that Prince has at least two distinct personalities warring within him. Maybe this is why he dresses like that.
Anyway so then Morris hits on Appollonia, and while he’s doing so Prince sings “The Beautiful Ones” onstage, which totally shows Morris up. It must be said that most of the musical sequences that consist of Prince performing on stage are somewhat to very electrifying, and this is one of them. I totally remember this song, especially the last half, as one of the film’s highlights when I saw this in the theater as a tender child of 16. So after the show Prince descends the back alley staircase under blue light with his long jacket hanging down, leading my friend to exclaim “He’s like Batman.” But who should linger in the shadows with her tits virtually falling out but Appollonia, who hops on and they repair to Prince’s parents’ basement, where they make sensuous Prince-love, first with him standing over her as she spreads her legs [how low did they have to make that bed?], then she’s on her knees with this tiny red thong that barely covers her mons, and he runs his hand all over her pussy! I could not believe it—and could not believe I didn’t remember it being this dirty back in the day. It’s also kind of a surprise to see one’s pop superstars being so sexually explicit… but I guess that was all part of Prince’s whole deal. It’s also refreshing to have a movie in which the super-cool pop star still lives in his parent’s basement.
Anyway, so Prince becomes witness to a fistfight his parents are having, his mother finally articulates the problem that plagues their marriage: “You don’t let me have any fun.” Then Appollonia buys Prince the guitar he wanted, the famous white one with the one big curl, although this is only their third date, and on the first one he sadistically tormented her. But this is to sweeten the waters before she reveals that she’s going to join Morris’ group, at which point Prince belts her! Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we are witnessing the CYCLE OF VIOLENCE.
So now it’s serious emotion time, with “When Doves Cry” playing as we have a montage of the various modes of Prince’s life. Part of this involves Prince and Appollonia making love in a barn. I don’t know, this kind of stuff makes me want to know what the circumstances that led up to that were… did they sign up for a hay ride or go to get cider and donuts, and then snuck off to the barn when no one was looking? And if you continue this way, it’s a little funny to imagine Appollonia contentedly sitting on the back of a tractor during their hay ride wearing a lacy bustier. During this time we also become acutely aware that this movie was filmed during the time when the “mad doctor keyboard player” type was considered, you know, remotely reasonable.
SPOILERS > > >
So Prince goes home to find the door open and runs around desperately looking for his dad. If you own or have access to this movie, you MUST observe around 57:45 when Prince runs into some room and shouts “Where are you? Answer me, motherfucker!” THEN does this totally Prince-esque whoosh-whoosh-whoosh spin like Michael Jackson or something. I guess he really is a natural performer—even at his most emotional moment. He moves like an animal—so raw!
So Prince’s dad’s enduring message from father to son is “Never get married,” which seems to affect Prince deeply. Then Prince simulates getting head onstage from Wendy [or Lisa, can’t remember who’s who]. Then he sings “Darling Nikki” at Appollonia, who is on the arm of Morris, essentially calling her a whore. Which she essentially looks like, as she is in public and soon outside wearing nothing but extremely skimpy lingerie.
Then Prince goes home and finds that his mother shot his father. So Prince is downstairs in his room experiencing mental turmoil, at one point seeing a vision of himself hanging, which leads him to pick up a pole of some kind and smash the bottles of preserves. Anyway, I think you can tell that when preserves get smashed, we are experiencing a kind of emotional apotheosis that is going to leave all us just a little bit changed. And it’s true.
So it’s the big battle of the bands, the one Prince’s continued career is riding on, because the club manager has told him [repeatedly] that if he fails to draw a crowd he won’t be booked there anymore. So The Time perform “The Bird,” and then Prince gets up and plays “Purple Rain,” which he introduces as being a song written by Wendy and Lisa. I have never been impressed by this song, but it struck me as much better this time than it ever has. Take a look at the majority of the crowd in this club, particularly during this song, and you will notice: they are almost ALL WHITE. This is little bit like the crowd on disadvantaged kids from the hood in Honey, who were also mysteriously predominantly white. Now, I know Prince is a crossover artist, but one has to speculate on why that audience is so darn white. You’ll also notice that at one point Prince goes over and kisses Wendy on the cheek, and she makes a face of confused repulsion at him.
Then Prince goes to the hospital and sees his mother sleep, clutching his father [who lived, btw], which I think is supposed to make us all think about forgiveness, but just made me think “she loves her abuser.” Then Prince finds a bunch of music his father wrote, which refers to earlier when his father called himself superior to Prince because he “didn’t have to write anything down.” Then Prince is back at the club performing “I Would Die 4 U” [also a reference to something his father said earlier—Prince turns his pain into ART!]. At the end of this performance he gets up on a speaker and rubs his guitar neck in a phallic, masturbatory way [as he has been doing at various points throughout the film], but this time, liquid comes out the end and he sprays it all over the audience. Yes, that’s right, Ladies and Gentlemen, Prince IS ejaculating all over the audience. He turns his head to the camera and the picture freezes, the credits starting. Yes, Prince ejaculates all over the audience, and THAT is the end of the film.
< < < SPOILERS END
It was not better than I remembered, as I hardly think my critical faculties were a developed at all at the time, but it is more of a genuine massive THING than I recalled. On the poor side, the story is shapeless and meandering, with Appollonia bouncing back and forth between the two men without much sense of what she really likes, her scenes with Prince display NO chemistry, and nothing is very well developed. Not to mention the outfits. On the plus side is the music and very well-done camerawork and editing that lets you see the performances while also upping the energy and keeping the film exciting. And the whole thing is fun while also having a bit of depth, all of which adds up to making it one of the best rock movies out there.
Yes! Especially if you're into Prince.
UNDER THE CHERRY MOON is Prince’s directorial debut and hoo boy, it’s something to see.