Purple Rain (1984)
1984, dir. Albert Magnoli
Review by Gnoll
I’ll always love Purple Rain. It all goes back to my childhood, where I was such a Prince freak that I joined the “Purple Rain Club” with other kids in my fourth grade class, and we met under a table in the back of the classroom to discuss how wicked awesome we thought the man who would eventually have no name was. As I grew older, into middle and high school and beyond, I left the Members Only jackets and parachute pants behind, but Prince stuck with me. To this day, he dominates my iPod, and I even find myself listening to some of his less-memorable stuff from the late 90’s every now and again. But Purple Rain will always remain his opus.
And it’s not really even that good a movie. I mean, coming from a purely film scholar angle, it kind of sucks. The acting is weak, the story is hackneyed, and the drama is laughable. But it’s an amazingly impressive film visually, and any other weak spots can be forgiven based on the fact that it has some of the most breathtaking musical performances ever captured on film.
The semi-biographical account of the life of Prince, Purple Rain is the story of “The Kid”, a twentysomething wannabe rockstar from Minnesota whose parents fight a lot and whose own bandmates only put up with his dramatic eccentricities because they know he’s some sort of musical genius. He decides to chase down his dream, and becomes a mainstay in the Minneapolis bar scene, but along the way lets his guard down when he meets a vixen named Appolonia who he manages to talk into a naked dip into the less-than-clean looking Lake Minnetonka. Eventually, he loses her to rival Morris Day, who gets her a musical gig of her own.
Things start falling apart for the Kid. Not only has he lost the girl, but the powers that be are getting a little fed up at the excesses of his musical performances, and his family life turns into a nightmare unto itself. Will he be able to pull himself out of his purple funk? Why, of course — with the power of song!
And with that, along comes the mindblowing musical numbers. Not only do we have The Kid and his band The Revolution performing the songs of Prince and The Revolution, but we’re also treated to numbers like Appolonia 6’s “Sex Shooter” and The Time’s “Jungle Love”. Prince’s “Darling Nikki” is probably the most memorable and definitely the most ribald performance in the film, but the renditions of “Computer Blue”, “Baby I’m a Star”, and the title song are also worth watching the film for. Unfortunately, only the songs actually performed by Prince made it on to the movie’s soundtrack, an oversight that he corrected when he released the soundtrack for the 1991 sequel Graffiti Bridge.
Prince wasn’t exactly looking at a potential Oscar nomination for his performance here, although he did win for Best Original Score. He mumbles through his lines and appears shy when he’s not on stage. Even worse is Appolonia, who picked up a Golden Raspberry for Worst New Star. However, Morris Day comes off naturally and charismatically in his role as the film’s main villain, and fellow Time member Jerome Benton impressed Prince enough to land a co-starring role in his follow-up, Under the Cherry Moon. The only professional actors in the cast are Olga Karlatos of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and Clarence Williams III, best known as Linc from The Mod Squad as The Kid’s estranged parents.
As I mentioned before, the film’s flaws are easily overlooked, because the music and sheer audacity of the whole thing make up for it in spades. It’s a bona fide cult classic, and earns a rare spot in my personal DVD collection. If you’re not a fan of Prince’s music, well, I can’t say I understand you, but seeing him perform it here might change your mind. Just don’t try to take the movie’s story too seriously, and you should find yourself having a good time.