Purple Rain

February 9, 2011

“Dig if you will, the picture….” Well, I did dig the picture, but a funny thing happened on the way to the theater. I don’t read reviews of movies before I see them, but a guy can hardly help reading the critical quotes in movie ads. I didn’t catch up with Purple Rain until its third week or so, and that’s three weeks of seeing “not since the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night” (Kurt Loder said that in Rolling Stone) prominently featured in the ads. As it turns out—I just checked it again—Loder seemed to be suggesting that, not since AHDN had a young generation been represented on the screen with such force. He wasn’t saying that Purple Rain was artistically equivalent to the Beatles-Richard Lester movies. But I didn’t know that, and I walked into the theater thinking I was in for some pretty hot spit.

Well…don’t get me wrong, I did not dislike Purple Rain, but Lester and the surviving members of the Fab Four certainly have nothing to worry about. Rock star Prince seems to have guided most aspects of this production, which—although he takes no screenwriting credit—is loosely based on his own life. From the evidence, we can conclude that Prince has led a life, uh, off the beaten path. His preoccupations have been poured into a creaky, corny story that is structured rather shrewdly (a bunch of elements are built up throughout and then resolved during the big finale). Unfortunately, the film seems to have been jotted down rather than directed by first-timer Albert Magnoli.

Luckily, lapses in directorial texturing are nicely made up for by the people onscreen. Patty Apollonia Kotero, who has wonderful laughing eyes that will probably be ignored in favor of her other attributes, has a lot of good instincts. And Morris Day, lead singer of the Time, is a precious comic find, with the timing and presence of a movie natural. Prince himself is not quite as comfortable with the camera in his dialogue scenes, and he has a tendency—but this is Magnoli’s fault, too—for resorting to an easy smirk as a way out (which is pretty funny the first few times he uses it).

Purple Rain often threatens to fall apart, but there’s always a live Prince number to be performed, and when it comes to the stage playing, Prince really does own the movie. The last couple of rave-up numbers are sensational, and it’s very easy to forget about the film’s faults on the way out of the theater. This movie has Prince’s band, playing themselves, and they exist in an amusing deadpan mode; it’s also got Clarence Williams III, who was Linc Hayes on “Mod Squad,” as Prince’s abusive father. And it’s all shot in Minneapolis, which makes it even funnier.

First published in The Informer, August 1984

Was this the last time anybody referred to Apollonia by her full name? Further research is indicated. The movie was notable (or should be) for being something of a career re-start for Clarence Williams III, as least on screen, and a welcome one, too. Not much to say except that it was a complete pop-culture pheenom moment, one played one’s copy of the soundtrack album out (but 1999 even more), and the whole thing led to Under the Cherry Moon, which put a wrench in Prince’s career as a filmmaker. It was fun while it lasted, though.