The other day, I paid about 17 dollars (shipping and handling included) for a live concert VHS tape of Prince & The Revolution performing in 1985, a concert where they perform every track from the Purple Rain ‘soundtrack’ album. Purple Rain makes my dick ROCK. HARD. I am a Prince fan BECAUSE of Purple Rain (the album) and I didn’t actually get around to seeing the film until years later. For those years, and even years before I discovered the musical mastery of the Purple Rain album, elements of this film had been built up for me by pop culture; the ‘obsession’ with Morris Day & The Time from Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and the Prince Chappelle’s Show Sketch ‘Charlie Murphy True Hollywood Stories’. Over time I have certainly come to love this film Purple Rain and I will certainly attempt to convey why I enjoy it so much… but I’d also like to attempt to overlook my bias and find something to offer up a critical opinion of.
One thing I don’t want to do is end up reviewing the album… so I will just get the music of the film out of the way up front. Every single track on the ‘soundtrack’ album is perfect. From start to finish the music of this film is emotional, melodic, well composed… a god damn masterpiece. I think this sums it up perfectly. Aside from the songs Prince performs himself in the film, you’ve also got Morris Day & The Time, whose music was composed and performed entirely by Prince. There are one or two other songs in the film that aren’t worth bringing up, and aside from Apollonia Six’s ridiculously dull “Sex Shooter,” all the other tracks are in the background. The two songs Morris Day & The Time perform in this film are the now legendary funk numbers “Jungle Love” and “The Bird”. The music of The Time isn’t all that different from what Prince’s earlier solo stuff sounds like, but with Morris Day as the vibrant, life of the party singer, these tracks have their own flair.
The staged performances in this film are all great. With the exception of the aforementioned Apollonia Six “Sex Shooter” song, every performance on stage by The Revolution or The Time is a serious ton of fun. Prince is captivating on stage and brings the most emotional intensity of his career to a lot of these performances. Morris Day is a flamboyant show off and an electrifying frontman. I don’t know much about the shooting of these performances but for the most part, they feel very organic and at times when the songs take over, you’re pretty much watching a concert movie until that particular song is over… Concert movie…
We’ll get to that one eventually…
The plot of the movie is about as cliché as it gets. There’s a happening night club and two bands competing for the greater glory. The Revolution vs. The Time. A girl named Apollonia enters the picture, who at first fancies our protagonist but quickly gets swept up by the promises made by Morris Day of making her a star. Apollonia is a very vapid, boring character- and a cliché all her own. The girl, who got lost on the wrong side of the tracks, comes to the club looking for work. There she meets Prince and falls in love with him… until Morris Day steps into the picture. While dealing with this love triangle, Prince also has to handle his physically abusive father, his bandmates that are sick of him hogging the spotlight, and songwriting, as well as the grouchy club owner who tells him “Your music makes sense to no one but yourself”. It is so riddled with clichés that any vanity this movie has, any arrogance the film itself exudes… it is safe to say it is so silly that it’s immediately deflated.
Prince and Morris Day are ridiculous in totally opposite directions. I genuinely find both of their performances entertaining. For the most part, Prince delivers his dialogue in an almost monotone way, but there are little moments where he just messes with people and it’s hysterical. There’s the famous ‘Lake Minnetonka’ scene and multiple scenes where he patronizes bandmates Wendy & Lisa- one in particular involving a puppet. And then there’s Morris Day. If Prince’s music isn’t your thing, Morris Day’s performance is worth sitting through this movie. He’s the ultimate flamboyant, over-the-top, rock-n-roll villain. Every scene he’s in is delightful-Wait until you see how he deals with women he doesn’t want to talk to. With his ‘black man servant’ Jerome, the two of them have some hysterical moments throughout. They even do a knock-off of an Abbott and Costello gag.
Next thing ya know, they’ll be askin’ to use his motorcycle.
How does Prince live with his parents but have fully tailored suits… and a fancy motorcycle… and well, all the extravagant things he owns in this movie? Not to mention his hair… It’s kind of a mute point, but the reason Prince lives with his parents in this movie is so they can hammer in this anti-domestic violence message. Prince’s Dad beats his mom and then later, Prince hits Apollonia in a blind rage. He stops and has that “What have I done?” moment and… it’s as grating and forcibly sentimental as it gets. Fortunately all this leads into the mega hit “When Doves Cry” and its inclusion in the film is… slightly disappointing when you realize that it’s not going to get a badass on stage performance like all the other songs… but it’s “When Doves Cry”-It’s a fucking masterpiece. It’d be like making Pink Floyd’s The Wall without “Hey You”… wait a minute… they did that…
… Also Prince’s dad in this movie is played by the bad guy from Half Baked. That’s just distracting.
I wanna talk to Samson!
Everything about Purple Rain on the surface is superficial- the clothes, the excess, the club… but underneath that surface, there’s an unmatched emotional intensity that Prince brings to the performances of every single one of his songs. To me, this movie captures the glam of the early 80s perfectly while creating so many Rock-N-Roll clichés we’ve come to know. A true classic that takes itself so seriously at times, you can’t help but laugh at its own self-absorbed melodrama… and the ‘soundtrack’ album is one of the best albums of the 1980s.
If you can’t get down with that, maybe you’re just too demanding. Maybe you’re just like your father, too bold. Maybe you’re just like your mother… you’re never satisfied.
Take a Drink: for every song by The Revolution or The Time.
Take a Drink: anytime Prince or Morris Day make bird-like noises.
Take a Drink: when Morris Day makes you laugh.
Take a Drink: when Prince says ‘motherfucker’.
Do a Shot: when you see how Morris Day and Jerome “take care” of a woman bothering them.
Do a Shot: for one of the final 3 songs, either “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U” or “Baby, I’m A Star”