12 – 96mins – 1986 – B&W
BUSINESS (OR) PLEASURE
“With love there is no death.”
Being a lifelong Michael Jackson fan I’ve always been aware of Prince, but my true fandom didn’t kick-in until I belatedly purchased Warner Bros. electrifying 2001 Best Of in the lead up to the Purple One’s commercial resurgence with Musicology (2004). Over the subsequent twelve years I have devoured every major new release (be it download only, newspaper-mounted or conventionally available) whilst also dipping into the prolific artist’s vast back catalogue.
Unsurprisingly, I’m still playing catch-up, and while I’ve watched his big screen bow in Purple Rain (1984) multiple times, his unconnected follow-up two years later had never made its way into my DVD player – despite sitting on my shelf since 2008! It’s tragic that it has taken his premature passing for me to pull my finger out and finally break the seal on Under the Cherry Moon.
As well as taking the lead as goofy hustler Christopher Tracey, Prince also contributed the soundtrack (in the form of the Parade album, with backing band The Revolution) and stepped behind the camera to direct! The confident auteur’s framing and choice of shots belays his inexperience, however the first time director overindulges horribly in intense stares and extravagant campery from his cast.
“Mirror, mirror, seventeen-fold, who’s the sexiest dressed in gold?”
Shot in B&W to add a touch of class to this often tongue-in-cheek satire of the sheltered circus of the over-privileged upper class, Christopher Tracey and “business partner” Tricky (Jerome Benton of The Time) are American musicians playing bars – and wealthy women – on the French Riviera. But when the pair set out to swindle a 21-year-old heiress (Kristin Scott Thomas in her feature debut) out of her trust fund, Tracey doesn’t count on falling for his mark…
“It’s dishonest work, but it’s a living.”
Full of silly faces, catty quips (“Give her that Bela Lugosi look,”) and childish silliness (“Cabbage head!”), the tone is a bizarre and uneven choice. Tracey and Tricky are frequently being called out for being “punks,” “peasants” and “gigolos,” but seem to revel in their underhanded roguishness with unlikable bravado. Tracey is a dick, at one point out-and-out bullying KST’s Mary Sharon, but Prince’s playful charisma overpowers the uncouthness, retaining his music video exuberance for 90 minutes.
“Girls and Boys” is the only musical number integrated into the narrative, while “Kiss” is perfectly placed at a crucial point and the “Mountains” music video plays underneath the end credits. Even as the drama ramps up with Mary’s disapproving father (Steven Berkoff) setting out to end the mismatched romance once and for all, the inappropriate histrionics continue uncaged, leading to an overwrought conclusion. It is narratively unearned but now hauntingly pertinent…
“He ain’t ready, Lord… Not him, not now!”