“Your music makes sense to no one but yourself.” Truer words have never been said about Prince Rogers Nelson. #PurpleRain
— Will Robinson (@Will_Robinson_) July 21, 2014
Prince is an odd, tiny fellow who happens to make awesome music from time to time. His first decade is chock full of classics that waded in between genres, from an updated Beatles pop hit (“When You Were Mine”) to high-energy 70s R&B jam (“I Wanna Be Your Lover”) to guitar-melting exhibitionism (“Computer Blue”). Dude was all over the place in talking about his favorite topic: boning. He went from the kinda-sorta clever car references (“Little Red Corvette” and “Dirty Mind”) to a bit more explicit (“Do It All Night”).
But “Purple Rain” is my favorite album of the bunch, infusing a ton of those styles that he surely listened to and synthesized growing up in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis. Nine songs, just under 45 minutes. And it’s perfect. Given that people of my generation (MILLENNIAL ALERT) weren’t exposed to Prince as much as, say, Michael Jackson, it’s something I will plug whenever possible — I’m a “Purple Rain” shill. The paycheck is nice. It allows me to buy some dope suits (but not as dope as Morris Day’s).
While “Purple Rain” the album is all amazing, the film is, um, something else, something that has been intentionally avoided for the slight chance its soundtrack could be sullied. But since this “gem” turned 30, I figure it would be as good a time as any to spend two hours watching Prince trying to act. It did not disappoint in that my expectations were lower than Prince’s maximum height (heels + big hair counted). LET’S GO CRAZY.Here’s the gist of the plot: The Kid (Prince) and his band, The Revolution, have a residency Minneapolis’ hottest club First Avenue, as does Morris Day (Morris Day) and The Time. Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) arrives here, in all places, with starry-eyed dreams of becoming a star, because all musical fantasies are fulfilled in Minnesota in this fictional world. She comes in with the “star-fucking” ethos but eventually falls for Prince and all his weird ways. Meanwhile, Morris and his sidekick/butler, the hilarious Jerome, try to lure her to his warehouse practice facility/bedroom. But she’s all about The Kid, who takes her home to the one time his dad is not beating up his mom, and they have sex (probably; it’s not shown).
While things are great for them, The Revolution is not in a good spot, as Wendy and Lisa give The Kid a cassette for their latest song titled “Slow Groove” that’s definitely not “Purple Rain.” But he treats them like John and Paul treated George — your songs blow, and ours are the best, so go hang out with stupid Ringo. This causes some killer tension in the band that’s at its peak when The Kid walks in tardy for practice, and Wendy greets him with a mocking version of “Let’s Go Crazy.” The shade is tremendous. Billy, the club owner, continually threatens to kick The Revolution out of First Avenue if they don’t get it together… which, of course they do at the end when “Purple Rain” is played followed by “ I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” The Kid wins over Apollonia after hitting her and being an all-around dick, and even Morris feels a bit bad about crapping on The Kid. All’s well that ends well!Now, there are many things wrong with this movie, a starting point is hard to discern. How about these two: the treatment and depiction of women. That’s a good place. Prince is an incredibly sexual artist — not that it’s hard to pick up on that, but he has a song titled “Jack U Off.” Prince’s mom is devoted to Francis L, daddy Prince, despite being the subject of his abuse in all but three scenes. Literally three scenes; that wasn’t a flippantly decided number. The first features her and her hubby wining and dining like the first fight never happened. The second is when Francis L. tries to kill himself, and she bawls in the living room because the love of her life, established abuser, couldn’t shoot himself in the head well enough to end his life. The third time, she posts up next to his hospital. Every other time, she receives a backhand or a nice shove to the ground. That’s not good.
Apollonia started in this mold but developed as the film went on. For one, driving off with Prince after he hits her wasn’t cool, even if the alternative was dealing with drunken Morris’ sexual advances in an alley. And when The Kid kissed her after that, I was not on board with her and her life decisions. But then she pushes him away, telling him to stop, nearly subjecting herself to further physical harm, lucking out that The Kid realizes that he’s on the path to becoming his old man, a shocking realization no one cool in any movie wants to have. But she takes agency of herself and her sexuality.
In her band, the Apollonia 6, she’s dancing around in lingerie singing “Sex Shooter.” But she owns the stage and has a presence, even if the sole objective of Morris’ recruiting her was to have another hot girl in his crew. She’s a success in the brief window we see despite the song being, by a large margin, the worst in the film. My advice, though? Don’t give your life to The Kid or Morris. And move out of Minneapolis. You may not be able to purify yourself in the waters of the Los Angeles River (read: pathetic stream), but there are way more record deals given out west.
Wendy and Lisa don’t do much but nag The Kid about wanting to play their songs; however, they do stand up to him and call him on his bullshit, of which there’s a lot. Like, you know, singing “Darling Nikki” on stage as Apollonia watches in the crowd, gyrating around, humping the stage to her chagrin, perhaps the cruelest thing outside of any bodily harm in the film. It’s a tried film trope — showing up a scorned lover in a public setting — but not many do it when talking about fucking another girl while wearing panties on one’s face and neck. For someone who sings about his love for women, Prince and the other characters (such as one of the male Revolution members making a crack about Wendy’s period and her acting nice during it and mean most the time) are misogynistic to a cartoonish degree.
It’s well documented that Prince is very fond of the real Apollonia. Despite her moments of pride, the lack of a script (I think) and her acting chops (I know) don’t do her justice or add to the case that this was made without a director or aspirations of being an objectively decent film. She’s just above being the object of The Kid and Morris’ sexual desires and goals. Speaking of Morris — there’s a scene where he forces the incomparable Jerome (film MVP), upon stumbling upon a one-night stand, to deal with her… by throwing her in a dumpster! Seriously. Jerome picks a grown woman up, takes her to the alley (of which Morris is apparently quite fond of, which is totally normal, sure) TOSSES HER IN A SIX-FOOT DUMPSTER, and closes the lid. What the fuck? Someone probably rented that to get rid of all the spare cassettes in their garage. It’s for comedy, sure, but the fact the rest of the movie treats the ladies in a particular way isn’t all that encouraging and produces more disbelief than chuckles. Despite that major beef, this movie is somewhat redeemed for a pair of reasons. The first is its intentionally hilarity and sheer cheesiness in a dangerously bold way. Did I say dangerously bold cheesiness? HAVE SOME DORITOS WITH PRINCE:Also, Prince lives in the basement of this house, a house (seen below) I really hope he lived in with the exact basement, rife with weird-ass dolls and painted faces (one seen above) that make his living space appear as the inspiration for Danny Brown album art.Want some more greatness? Here’s The Kid pining over that one time he convinced Apollonia to get naked in jump in Lake Minnetonka that wasn’t really Lake Minnetonka. He looks sad.Sad Kid is sad.But the best part of this movie, despite poor 80s lip-synching technology, is the music scenes, because of the music. But they also are shot well, allowing Prince to do what he does best: live and flaunt on stage. This is how Prince looked after the fantastic “The Beautiful Ones” scene, letting Apollonia know how he feels about her.This is also how I feel after hearing “The Beautiful Ones.” That is how anything with a pulse feels after hearing “The Beautiful Ones.”
Piano “Computer Blue” and “Purple Rain” played over particular scenes sucked me in, praying that by some act of the piracy god, that mixed versions exist and are leaked and downloaded before his crazed legal team can remove them for the enjoyment of the masses.
Surprisingly, despite this being an all-time train wreck, the quality of the album managed to outlast every character’s terrible writing and high school-level acting. Given the source material, I only imagine Prince said, “Shit, I have to pen music for this movie? Time to crank out the most inspired music in my career,” and boy, did he come through. “When Doves Cry,” probably his most famous song, was quickly drawn up as the movie needed another song; he basically crapped out that guitar riff, because there was too much dead air between lethally boring dialogue.
If you choose one way to consume Prince, be sure not to go with “Purple Rain” in all its, well, “glory.” It won’t leave a particularly good impression being an 80s, worse, more perverse version of “8 Mile.” But if you hear the record first, love it like anyone sensible person does and prepare yourself for a film that could, with much more analysis, be painted as a tongue-in-cheek coming-of-age rock flick, then go for it. Just try not to melt your face or weep at the last scene because it’s gorgeous and your torture is finally over.
Oh, and naturally, here’s an under-explained ranking of songs on the soundtrack.
1. Purple Rain
2. The Beautiful Ones
3. I Would Die 4 U
4. Computer Blue
5. When Doves Cry
6. Darling Nikki
7. Let’s Go Crazy
8. Baby I’m a Star
9. Take Me With U
The end. TAKE ME AWAY!