Purple Rain Revisited

The untimely passing of Prince has offered up one bittersweet positive: various movie-theater chains are showing a limited engagement of Purple Rain (1984) on the big screen.

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Back in the fall of 1984, at the tender age of 15, The Conflicted Film Snob was lucky enough to see the film with some friends during its original engagement, the person at the ticket counter not thinking twice about selling us tickets to the R-rated film. Fast forward to 2016 and, ironically, the Conflicted Film Snob’s oldest son is 15 years old. Thus, when the movie was re-released, this eerie symmetry, along with a desire for him to witness His Royal Badness’s electrifying musical chops in all their big-screen glory, made it a no-brainer to bring things full circle, even if this meant having to squirm in my seat during the infamous Lake Minnetonka scene, among certain others. However, despite the promise of gratuitous nudity, the 15-year-old showed little interest, as did his younger brother (whose age will be left out of this post to keep DCFS at bay). Told that they were going anyway, their response wasn’t far removed from this clip from Michael Mann’s 1995 epic, Heat:

They both loved it, of course.

Me, on the other hand? It’s more complicated. I still loved the concert scenes and the comedy schtick offered by Jerome and Morris, but the rest, well, let’s say it showed its age.

Now, if this were a blog dedicated to serious academic analysis, I might discourse on the filmmakers’ decision to saddle Prince with serious mommy/daddy issues. Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for character development and depth, especially when it involves well-crafted dialogue such as “You have no business leavin’ this house; you’re always sneaking around! You’re a Goddamn sinner!” and “Shut up, you don’t care about me!” But just not in a Prince movie. Clunky psychological heft has about as much place in Purple Rain as an androgynous, leather-clad singer-songwriter has in Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. Let’s face it; the reason we pay good money to see Purple Rain isn’t to watch Prince struggle with his demons, but rather to see him screech, gyrate, preen and guitar-shred his way across the stage in that one-of-a-kind feline way of his.

Luckily, this isn’t a blog dedicated to serious academic analysis, so I’m going to approach my critique differently, focusing on a handful of scenes and how they rate against three criteria, helpfully represented by the following icons:

1. Thespian Chops-o-Meter™

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2. Coiffure/Costuming Spectrum®

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3. Setback to the Feminist Cause Magnitude Ratio©

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And away we go…

Scene #1 (in which Apollonia meets Jill, a First Avenue waitress)

Synopsis: As nightmarish glimpses of early-80s club-goers appear to the syncopated beat of “Let’s Go Crazy”…

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…Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), fresh off the turnip truck bus from New Orleans, looking for her big break at Minneapolis’ famous First Avenue and on the run from the cabbie she just stiffed, sneaks her way into the music club only to crash into Jill (Jill Jones), the waitress with a heart (and hair) of gold. Not unreasonably, Jill barks, “What are you, stupid or something? Why don’t you watch where you’re going!” Apollonia, unperturbed and seemingly disinterested in helping Jill pick up the mess (always a good idea when about to ask for a favor), says, “Listen, I’m from out of town and I have to see the manager; it’s important. I’m a pretty good singer and dancer. Maybe he can use me.”

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Robert Bolt wept.

Better yet, both Jill and Apollonia deliver their dialogue with all the inflective fireworks of a zombie, the byproduct of director Albert Magnoli entrusting 95% of the film’s speaking roles to non-actors.

  • Thespian Chops-o-Meter™ — 1/10 (words fall like anvils from the lips of Jill and Apollonia):

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  • Coiffure/Costuming Spectrum® — 9/10 (although Jill and Apollonia disappoint in this regard, bonus points awarded for the early-80s club-goers who, in the immortal words of Spinal Tap’s manager, Ian Faith, look like “…an Australian’s nightmare”):

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  • Setback to the Feminist Cause Magnitude Ratio©: N/A

Scene #2 (in which Jerome and Morris are accosted on the street by an angry young woman)

Synopsis: Prognosticating on the future of the new girl group they’re managing (Morris: “This just ain’t happening, man. The bitches are OK, but we need something more exciting.”) and generally minding their own business, Jerome (Jerome Benton) and Morris (Morris Day) suddenly are accosted by an angry young woman, who, we come to understand from the invective that follows, was stood up by Morris the night before:

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Jerome, Morris’ trusty personal assistant/mirror holder, calmly defuses the situation by hustling the woman into an alley, picking her up and tossing her into a dumpster:

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“Lord…such nastiness,” notes Morris. Indeed.

  • Thespian Chops-o-Meter™ — 3/10 (bonus points awarded for Morris’ distinctive cackle):

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  • Coiffure/Costuming Spectrum® — 3/10 (not much going on here; points awarded for Morris’ white coat and Jerome’s hat):

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  • Setback to the Feminist Cause Magnitude Ratio©: 9/10 (nothing says misogyny better than tossing your lady into the trash):

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Scene #3 (in which The Revolution band members debate playing songs written by Wendy and Lisa)

Synopsis: As the band assembles in the dressing room before their set, guitarist Wendy (Wendy Melvin) turns to the lead singer-songwriter, The Kid (Prince), and says, “Heard it through the grapevine that you got a new tune written by a couple of great girls. Did you hear it?” When the Kid doesn’t answer right away, keyboardist Lisa (Lisa Coleman) says, “I knew it. He didn’t listen to it. He probably dropped it under his bike, rolled over it.” The Kid, using a hand puppet and ventriloquist trickery, says, “Why should he do your music. He’s been getting along just fine without it. Next thing you know you’ll be wanting to use his motorcycle.”

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The girls storm out, not amused. Which allows Matt “Doctor” Fink, also a keyboardist (that instantly identifiable 80s Minneapolis sound really leaned heavy on its synths), to note that “God got Wendy’s period reversed. About every 28 days she starts acting nice.”

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  • Thespian Chops-o-Meter™ — 6/10 (Wendy and Lisa acquit themselves nicely; the rest of the band, DOA):

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  • Coiffure/Costuming Spectrum® — 8/10 (Wendy and Lisa both sport hairstyles that cause one to wonder if they’ve just woken from month-long naps the entirety of which they spend lying on the right side of their heads; as for outfits, what can one say about Doctor’s scrubs and Bobby Z’s Mozart-inspired costume other than, “Yes!”):

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  • Setback to the Feminist Cause Magnitude Ratio©: 7/10 (bonus points awarded for the menstruation crack):

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Scene #4 (in which The Kid takes Apollonia for a ride through the Minnesota countryside)

Synopsis: The Kid takes Apollonia for a pastoral ride that ends up on the shores of a lake. The two discuss her hopes and dreams. When she asks if The Kid will help her further her career, he explains he’d consider it if she purifies herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. Apollonia disrobes and jumps into the freezing waters. When she emerges, The Kid explains “That ain’t Lake Minnetonka.”

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He then tears away on his motorcycle. Apollonia fumbles on her clothes and gives chase. The Kid returns, however, and offers up the back half of his seat. He tells her not to get his leather wet. She kisses him on the cheek.

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  • Thespian Chops-o-Meter™ — 2/10 (the two of them in conversation isn’t unlike listening to a flock of bleating sheep):

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  • Coiffure/Costuming Spectrum® — 9/10 (the sheer amount of leather on display must’ve had Freddie Mercury and that one guy from The Village People crying in their beers with envy; as for hair, Prince’s Jheri-curled locks never disappoint):

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  • Setback to the Feminist Cause Magnitude Ratio©: 9/10 (bonus points awarded for Prince gunning his cycle every time the soaking-wet Apollonia tried to hop on, thus making her stumble like a fool):

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Scene #5 (in which Morris chats up Apollonia at First Avenue)

Synopsis: Morris tries to wine and dine Apollonia into loving him, using such tried-and-true pickup line as “Your lips would make a lollipop oh so happy,” and “I wish you could see my home. It’s so exciting. In the bedroom I have a brass waterbed,” and “Oh lord, either someone put something in my drink or you’re the finest motherfucker I’ve seen in ages.”

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  • Thespian Chops-o-Meter™ — 6/10 (Morris is the man and Apollonia doesn’t say much):

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  • Coiffure/Costuming Spectrum® — 7/10 (a special shout-out to Morris’ gold-lamé suit jacket):

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  • Setback to the Feminist Cause Magnitude Ratio©: 2/10 (Apollonia actually registers contempt and disbelief at Morris’ cheek):

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So, there you have it. Purple Rain. Relic of the early 80s, a simpler time in which one could chuck a woman into a dumpster with impunity, and Prince’s finest on-screen moment. RIP.

If you’ve got The Time (oof!) and can handle the $5 ticket freight (yeah, it’s only $5, at least at the theater we attended), make sure you check it out!

Here’s the trailer:

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