Prince’s out-of-nowhere death in April bummed me out—as it did pretty much all of Western civilization. He was an enigmatic staple and a defining figure of ’80s pop music. He has been around from the dawn of my musical cognizance; the soundtrack for Purple Rain (along with a handful of his other albums, some soundtracks and some not) still gets a lot of play on my iPod. A brilliant original, it’s no surprise that The Purple One’s ultimate film played on TV and showed in theaters nonstop for weeks after his death. As much as I dug him (and still do), I never saw one of his movies. I suppose you can thank Madonna for that: I’ve learned that pop stars with big personalities generally don’t make good actors.
Seeing Purple Rain didn’t change my mind about that. Prince was a musical genius, an amazing entertainer, dramatic and mysterious, and a total narcissist. He was fun to watch. But he was no actor, at least not in 1984. The Kid was not a stretch, and the screenplay—by Albert Magnoli and William Blinn—is typical, nothing-special “boy-meets-girl (Apollonia Kotero), boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back” fare set to Prince music. There’s an evil nemesis (Morris Day) out to get The Kid, whose family life offers no respite. The story just doesn’t quite gel in a compelling and engaging way. The dramatic bits are comically overdramatic, ranging from amusing to silly to cringeworthy (seriously, “purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka”?). Prince’s posing is cute at first but it gets tiresome after awhile.
That said, Purple Rain features all the songs from the album plus a B-side (“God”). It’s a great performance film. The extended version of “Let’s Go Crazy” at the beginning alone makes seeing the film worthwhile. Watching the First Avenue audience react to “Darling Nikki” is amusingly awesome. Numbers by Morris Day and The Time (“Jungle Love” and “The Bird”) and Apollonia (“Sex Shooter”) are fun. Personal bonus: I recognized where they filmed a lot of the scenes thanks to my visit to Minneapolis last year.
Prince was exceptional. The Purple Rain soundtrack remains exceptional after more than 30 years. As a film, though, Purple Rain is not—it’s just okay. I would skip to the songs if I were to watch it again. Sorry, Prince—if U even care.
(City Winery) C