1986: When Prince Came Calling on the Cote d’Azur

Under The Cherry Mooon Endpage - H 2016
Warner Bros./Photofest

The Minneapolis-born superstar holds a special place in the hearts of the French.

The April 21 death of Prince at age 57 has cast a purple haze over this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which will celebrate the legendary musician with a special open air screening of his 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain.

The Minneapolis-born superstar holds a special place in the hearts of the French: While he never strolled the Croisette during the festival, he spent a good deal of time on the French Riviera, filming Under the Cherry Moon at the La Victorine Studios in Nice 30 years ago.

Unlike Purple Rain, Moon — for which Prince served as both star and director — was a critical and financial flop for Warner Bros. when it hit theaters in July 1986. The film was shot in black and white (by Michael Ballhaus, the German cinematographer best known for his collaborations with Rainer Fassbinder) and followed His Majesty as he played a smooth-talking gigolo named Christopher Tracy.

Aided by his dimwitted sidekick Tricky (Jerome Benton, best known as Morris Day’s mirror-wielding hype man), Christopher sets out to swindle a rich debutante (Kristin Scott Thomas in her movie debut) only to end up falling for her.

The risky throwback suffered from no lack of publicity: MTV mounted a contest in which a 10,000th caller was granted a world premiere screening in her hometown. It all unfolded in the bizarrely incongruous setting of the Centennial Theater in Sheridan, Wyo. (The movie was met with crickets; the 45-minute live Prince set that followed it, however, drew frenzied screams.)

“Mannerisms are his medium,” wrote THR in its vicious pan of the film. “Lower the eyes, purse the lips, widen the eyes, tilt the head, then turn and swirl.” Of Prince’s mise-en-scene: “One must usually go to family recreation rooms to view movies of similar aesthetic realization.”

Both Prince and Benton took home Razzie acting honors that year — another ’80s pop superstar, Madonna, won worst actress for Shanghai Surprise — and the movie tied with Howard the Duck for worst picture.

The accompanying soundtrack, titled Parade but filled with references to the film, fared better, earning critical kudos and a smash single in “Kiss.” Moon earned just $10 million at the domestic box office; Prince’s acting career never recovered.