PRINCE BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE: Vanity!

Posted: June 7, 2011 in Movies (A), Movies (L), Movies (N), Movies (Number Titles), Music, Pretty Girls
 
In honor of Prince’s birthday, here’s another Prince-related article that I once wrote. And yes, I’m going to keep on using purple font liberally. If you don’t like it, you may need to go purify yourself.
 
 
 
My absolute favorite Prince protégé of all time is Vanity. 

(Sure I have an opinion on a subject that obscure – doesn’t everybody?) 
 
I’m a fan of Prince, so it follows that I am a fan of his beauteous protégés. And of all of them, I rank Vanity the highest.
 
Before I get into that specifically in depth, let me qualify that a distant second place goes to Apollonia, and in third, of course, is Carmen Electra. 
 
 
Carmen’s wonderfulness is slipping away from us by the day, due to her association with all those laugh-free parody movies.  [With one 15-minute glance at Epic Movie, I saw the worst of which humanity is capable.] But I will always love her for the musical ambitions and the sporadic dancing and the whole striptease aerobics idea – unintentional-comedy brilliance. She’s also, for the record, so much prettier in real life.
 
 
Apollonia was in Purple Rain. There you go – the alpha and the omega of her glory. Apollonia has been purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. That’s true bravery. I also heavily recommend a song called “Number Nine” by the Twilight Singers, on which Apollonia provides backing vocals. [Look for it here.] One of my favorite tunes of ever – it’s killer.
 
 
But Vanity is still the number one. To me at least. She’s got the body of work behind her. She’s got the strange sweetness and the complete wackadoo. For me, it was always all about Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, surely the only Motown kung-fu musical ever made. 
 
 
In that flick, Vanity plays Laura Charles, the VJ whose big hair is threatened by cartoonish gangsters and recruits Harlem Bruce Lee acolyte Leroy Green Jr. (a.k.a. Bruce Leroy) to be her bodyguard, you know, to guard her body. This makes Leroy’s younger brother Richie very jealous, but now I’m getting too much into recounting the elaborate plot and I want you to see this movie if you haven’t already. Just know that Richie is my favorite character because he dresses like Shalamar and riffs like Jackie Mason.
 
Anyway, as I mentioned, The Last Dragon is strangely sweet and Vanity is strangely sweet in it. This is one of those movies that I feel weirdly proprietary about – I know I have to share favorite movies like Ghostbusters and Stripes with the world, but The Last Dragon? That’s only for me and my brothers Jason and Anthony. One day soon I will write a lengthier discourse on the value of this cinematic trinket, but at the moment I have to keep moving, because that’s what Vanity did.
 
 
She actually made several movies in the 1980s, all worth seeing for reasons of quality or shlockiness, or both. Never Too Young To Die is an unbelievably ridiculous piece of shit that you absolutely must treat yourself to, if you haven’t already done. [I wrote on that one at length in an earlier posting.] 
 
 
 
 
After The Last Dragon, Action Jackson was fairly traumatic for me – Vanity is depicted in a bad way in this movie, playing a strung-out heroin addict who needs Action Jackson’s help, but that initial trauma was offset significantly by the part where she shows her boobs. Action Jackson is no lost classic, but I was always a fan of Joel Silver productions, and I LOVE Carl Weathers as every red-blooded American man should – the man was Apollo Creed (and Dillon), for Carl’s sake! 
 
It should also be noted that Vanity’s group, Vanity 6, with their semi-hit “Nasty Girl”, provided the score for two significant scenes for me in 1980s films – 1) when Betsy Russell shakes her thang in Private School and 2) when Axel Foley takes Taggart and Rosewood to the strip club in Beverly Hills Cop. She also sang in most of the above films.
 
Most significantly, and certainly most overlooked, is 52 Pick-Up
 
 
Golan-Globus produced the movie. Golan-Globus were Israeli producers who made a remarkable amount of garbage in the early to mid-1980s. 52 Pick-Up is definitely the best Golan-Globus production I have ever seen, and I’ve seen several more than I ought to have. Before now, the best Golan-Globus production I have seen would be either Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, or Enter The Ninja starring Franco Nero and a lot of ninjas.
 
This one has a higher pedigree than usual, due to the script by Elmore Leonard (!) and the direction by John Frankenheimer. Paul Verhoeven’s sometime cinematographer Jost Vacano supplies the smooth camera moves, and everybody in front of the camera (almost) does their typical best. It’s still no lost classic, but it’s worth another look.
 
Roy Scheider is not playing the best guy in the world in this one, but he’s Roy Scheider – always sympathetic and working-class smart. He plays a successful business owner who gets involved with a twenty-something Kelly Preston (who wouldn’t?), although that means he’s cheating on his wife, played by Ann-Margret (giving the rare good reason to question that decision.) As one could expect from the Leonard imprimatur, this affair rapidly becomes a blackmail attempt on Scheider, levied by a gang of unusual criminals. The bug-eyed John Glover is their leader, but it’s Clarence Williams III, best known to my generation as Samson Simpson from Half Baked (and Prince’s dad from Purple Rain!), who makes the most intimidating impression as Bobby Shy, the methodical enforcer.
 
That’s a lot of set-up. Still with me? Next up: Boobs! 
 
Vanity plays Preston’s confidante, also Williams’ girl, also some kind of stripper. She’s got the smaller supporting part of all these other better-known names, but she’s effective and believable, even sad, in the few scenes she has. It almost suggests a legitimate acting career would have been possible, but as history would have it, that was not to happen.
 
It turns out that Vanity had more than her share of demons. One of them was Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue. His recent book The Heroin Diaries, details, along with much other debauchery, their dangerous relationship– intriguingly, with present-day “director’s” commentary from the participants, including Vanity herself, who has for the last several years been known as Evangelist Denise Matthews. In her passages, Vanity sounds happy and enthusiastic and, um, exactly like an evangelist. She’s apparently working on her own book, and probably wouldn’t much appreciate an article like this one, dedicated to the Vanity persona, because she vastly prefers her current incarnation. I hope that it’s true, that she is that happy. 
 
I hope it’s not a front for a judgemental world. We should all wish happiness and peace of mind for the entertainers we’ve enjoyed over the years. For me, it’s all about this moment, from her “best” film … It’s all about The Glow….
 
 
 
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s