Under the Cherry Moon (1986)
Directed by Prince
If the Kid of Purple Rain manifested the possessive, prickly ego of Prince, Christopher Tracy is the playfully mugging id, a one-man parade of sass and spunk. (Put those two together, and you have his unstoppable look from “Batdance”). A project wrestled from original director Mary Lambert—who was demoted to creative consultant—Under the Cherry Moon was the next stop on a contentious relationship between His Royal Purpleness and Warner Brothers, a prime example of creative control vs. commercial demands. It was nowhere near as successful a film, even if its soundtrack killed at wrecka stows. The failure is conceivable: gone are the sultry live performances (those would return in the depressingly underseen Sign O The Times), the hardened domestic drama, and the steamy romance between Prince and Apollonia. You may not have Lake Minnetonka to purify yourself in, but there’s Prince wearing a wide-brimmed hat in a bath.
Set in the French Riviera’s sumptuous luxury, guided by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus’s detail-oriented eye (the Fassbinder and Scorsese collaborator died earlier this month), Cherry Moon takes the triangular tension of its predecessor along the leisurely path of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Christopher Tracy is a sparkly gigolo courting trust-fund honey Mary (Kristen Scott Thomas in her feature debut), who also takes a shine to sidekick Tricky (Jerome Benton of The Time). Though the plot is cookie-cutter and the chemistry botched, Prince nevertheless does what he does best: make a formula his own. Gender fluidity and queer identity rule the film—Prince and Benton truly deserve each other—and the dialogue is bonkers poetry: “Piss, piss, what a pity/life can be so shitty.” At best, it proved Prince’s comic chops, as well as his stretched imagination for musical setpieces, making you wish every stuffy party had an impromptu boombox blast. How much was Prince and how much was Lambert and Lizzie Borden alum Becky Johnston remains obscure, but the controversy becoming mythology was certainly one of Prince’s greatest talents. Max Kyburz (April 21, 9:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse)