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Graffiti Bridge // After delays and reworking, Prince's musical scheduled to open

  • Article by: Jon Bream
  • Star Tribune
  • November 1, 1990 - 10:00 PM

"The story only Prince could tell. Music only Prince could play."

That's what the ads proclaim for his movie musical "Graffiti Bridge," which opens nationally today.

No one questions that "Graffiti Bridge" is Prince's singular vision. He was its screenwriter, director, composer and star. The real question: Is this often-delayed movie any good?

The scuttlebutt is that this movie, about two nightclub-owner musicians with different points of view about music, is Prince's bridge over troubled waters, and that it needed more repairs than the Independent-Republican Party's campaign for governor. The word from Prince's people is that the extra work and delay on "Graffiti Bridge" are par for the course in moviemaking.

"It has gone through the normal process," said "Bridge" producer Arnold Stiefel, Prince's manager, who has been involved with such films as Bette Midler's "The Rose," Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense," the locally filmed "That Was Then, This Is Now" and "About Last Night." "It has changed in post-production as much as any film," he added.

The principal shooting at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen wrapped in March, then some additional scenes were shot this fall in Hollywood. Some of the production numbers, featuring songs heard on the sound-track album that was released in August, have been excised.

"Before, it was all mixed up; there wasn't much of a story there," said Ingrid Chavez, who plays the female lead, Aura. The new, transitional scenes help make the movie an "adorable story," she said. "Before, you couldn't get into the characters. Prince works off of his gut feeling, so he was just filming all this stuff and imagining it in his mind. But when it came to putting together, he realized he needed to structure it a little bit better."

"Graffiti Bridge" was scheduled to open in 1,400 U.S. theaters Aug. 7. Today, it will open at only 700 theaters. The original production budget was $8 million; the final tally is nearly $10 million.

"In a perfect world, it would have come out in August," said Stiefel. "It was so naive for us - the producers and the record label - to think anyone, even Prince - this important genius of the second half of the 20th century - could do this (shoot the film), go off on tour in Europe and Japan and edit it by satellite. It's an insane process."

In a perfect world, Kim Basinger would have been the costar of "Graffiti Bridge." She and Prince met last year when he worked on the music for "Batman," in which she starred. A romance blossomed, and there was talk of a movie collaboration. The affair fizzled, and Prince redesigned "Graffiti Bridge" without her.

"Would I like to have Prince and Kim in `Graffiti Bridge'? You bet I would," said Stiefel last week from his Los Angeles office. "It would make my box-office heart beat louder. Everyone wanted to find out what they were all about together. But that might have added the wrong kind of excitement. This is the movie in a purer sense."

Stiefel and his partner, Randy Phillips, sold the film to Warner Bros. Pictures solely as a Prince musical. "He's positively perceived at Warner Bros. Pictures," said Stiefel, whom Prince hired about a year ago. "We presented the idea at the end of the day on a Tuesday and got the go-ahead by Wednesday morning."

Prince's track record as a moviemaker is checkered. "Purple Rain," his 1984 debut, was an unexpected smash hit, grossing more than $65 million for the $8 million, made-in-Minneapolis rock musical with a first-time director (Albert Magnoli) and first-time star. Prince's 1986 romantic comedy, "Under the Cherry Moon," was a bomb, pulling only $10 million at the box office. His 1987 "Sign o' the Times" was a critically acclaimed concert film that made a small profit from its limited theatrical run.

"Do they (film studios) forget about those? No," said Stiefel. "But this is a musical."

"Graffiti Bridge" is a 1990s version of an old-fashioned Hollywood musical "with jelly-bean colors and fantasy and people singing to each other," Stiefel said. One Prince staffer has described it as a cross between "West Side Story" and "Tommy" with a huge dose of funk.

In the film, Prince reprises the role of the Kid he played in "Purple Rain," and Morris Day and Jerome Benton of the Time portray the same characters again. However, "Graffiti Bridge" should not be viewed as a sequel to "Purple Rain," according to people involved with the new film.

Both movies involve club scenes and a battle of bands between Prince and the Time, said Chavez. The "Graffiti Bridge" story line is simple: A friend bequeaths Day and Prince a nightclub called Glam Slam, and it's not making enough money because Prince is doing off-the-wall music in the club. He and Day battle over the direction of the club.

Besides Chavez, Day and the other members of the Time, principal cast members include musicians with no acting experience - George Clinton, Mavis Staples and 13-year-old Tevin Campbell, a protege of Quincy Jones.

"Graffiti Bridge" has been getting bad-mouthed ever since it was screened for a test audience in Pasadena, Calif., last summer at a theater which had earned the second-highest grosses in the country for "Purple Rain." Such preview tests are routine, but this one proved problematical because three or four people were boisterous throughout the movie, said a film-industry worker who attended the screening and who does not work for Prince.

What did the filmmakers learn from the test? "Never have a screening in Pasadena," barked Stiefel. "The film was not ready yet. The sound was wrong. It was too early."

But the negative buzz has persisted ever since.

Warner Bros. has declined to screen the movie in advance for critics. "That's Hollywood shorthand that it's seen as a bad film," said Patrick Goldstein, who writes about movies for the Los Angeles Times. "I've gotten no indication that Warner Bros. has any high hopes for this beyond the normal Prince following. That's large in record-industry terms. It's relatively small in movie-industry terms."

Just what does Prince think about "Graffiti Bridge"?

In a conversation to promote the movie, he told Rolling Stone magazine this fall that he will survive if "Graffiti Bridge" isn't a blockbuster. "I can't please everybody," he said. "I didn't want to make `Die Hard 4.' But I'm also not looking to be Francis Ford Coppola. I see this more like those 1950s rock 'n' roll movies."

Prince never did say what he thought about the movie. "Could you ever use the word `thrilled' with Prince ?" Stiefel asked rhetorically. "I think he feels he's delivered something he's proud of."

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