Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With Prince, Morris Day.
Directed by Prince.
(Warner Home Video, color, 91 mins.).

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Graffiti Bridge was so vociferously bum-rapped on the street and in the papers that there's no way it can live up to expectations. And indeed, if you wanted to make a case for Prince's third written-and-directed feature, you could ask how many old-style Hollywood song-and-dance vehicles are any longer on meaningful plot and funny lines. Certainly the music, which takes up half the film, is up to the standard of Purple Rain, the flick that established Prince as pop icon and cineaste. On balance, in fact, we prefer it--Prince doesn't give himself a "When Doves Cry" or "Purple Rain," but young Tevin Campbell, old George Clinton, and especially the Time more than compensate.

The problem is that the average '30s musical either did offer more dramatic meat or didn't pretend to try, while the nonmusical parts of Graffiti Bridge range from hopelessly flat to actively ridiculous. The story pits Prince's "spiritual noise" against the machine-tooled funk of bad-guy Morris Day. The angel of reconciliation is a "half-and-half" with a high collar named Aurra, who writes poetry, waves feathers, and disappears into thin air until she's run over by a Jeep.

Looking suitably Christlike in his long process and weird new beard, Prince has refined his baroque eroticism--although he never gets down with the angel, this is his sexiest film. And Day's band, the Time, reunited for this occasion, are cracker than ever. In the plot, Prince overcomes, but they win the battle of the production numbers. And in this movie, that means the war.

Video Review, Feb. 1991