Ah, I loved the 80's! I spent the vast majority of them drunk and in college. Despite an embarrassing addiction to MTV, I never really got into Prince's music, hence I never saw this movie. Other than a vague memory that many people liked it, I was approaching Purple Rain tabula rasa. Recalling the generally positive attitude towards it I was hoping I was uncovering a buried treasure.
Purple Rain is the story of The Kid (Prince), an aspiring musician whose band is one of three acts that play at First Avenue, a rock club in Minneapolis. He shares a rivalry with another of the acts: Morris Day (playing himself) and the Time. Matters get complicated for The Kid when the jealous Morris plots to have the Revolution replaced with a girl band of his creation.
But that's not all of The Kid's problems. Dissent is manifesting among the ranks in his band and the manager of the club thinks The Kid's music is losing its edge and not drawing the crowds like it used to. But wait, that's not all: The Kid lives in his parent's basement (and this "kid" looks like he's pushing 30 - funny, he doesn't look like a “Star Trek” fan) and is forced to listen to his father (Clarence Williams III) berate, bully, and beat his mom almost constantly.
Enter Appolonia (Apollonia Kotero), an aspiring singer/songwriter who arrives at the club looking for a gig. The Kid is attracted to her, but refuses to help her career. They quickly develop a romance but it is Morris who offers her a job in his proposed girl band. Will Appolonia find success and true happiness? Will the Revolution revolt against their narcissistic leader? Will The Kid get his head out of his butt and recognize the people who care about him?
I don't think I uncovered a buried treasure. It more resembles something I sifted out of a kitty litter box. First off, the acting was bad but I can't harp on it too much because those involved were mainly musicians, not trained actors. Prince himself isn't that terrible an actor. It's his movie and he gets to do it all here: laugh, love, cry, rage, mince, and simper. He handles it okay, but I didn’t feel any of his magnetic charm that caused so many girls to squee their way through the early 80’s.
My dislike of Purple Rain overall boiled down to one simple thing: I did not like The Kid. He's the son of a father who is a Tortured Soul: a failed musician who takes his frustrations out on the people who love him, and whose actions have wounded himself most of all. So The Kid is Tortured Soul, junior. He's also a spoiled, selfish brat who won't listen to anyone else. When Apollonia announces that she joined Morris' new girl band he slaps her. Yeah, I realize it was an illustration of the sins of the father and all that, but that act immediately swept away whatever meager empathy I had for his character. There's a fine line between tortured artist and asshole and he crossed it. Of course in this type of story there's going to be a change of heart and he'll mend his ways, but hell, he didn't even apologize for hitting her and she still gets back together with him before the credits roll. What the hell – am I supposed to like this guy? Why? Because he has better fashion sense than me?
As for Apollonia: Sometimes I get the feeling that some movies have female love interests only to prove that the heroes are confident heterosexuals. This movie is a blaring example of that sentiment. Yeah, fine - taking some of that eyeliner off might help, too. In the end though, she's just there to show her boobies at the appropriate moment; she certainly wasn't hired for her acting ability.
The story itself is formulaic, but it's the music that matters in a movie like this, right? Anyway, I don't think the movie is a total loss specifically because of the music - however, not Prince's music as much as Morris Day and The Time's. If I were to go to a club to watch a band, I'd much rather hear music as energetic and funk-inspired as theirs instead of Prince's admittedly lively, but generic synthesizer pop tunes interlaced with angst-filled, pompous slow numbers. Okay, I really liked "Darling Nikki"; that's the type of raunch and outrageousness I heard rumor that Prince was famous for. This movie could have used more of that.
This Special Edition DVD marks the 20 year anniversary of the movie's release. One good thing going for this edition is a re-mastering (Dolby Digital 5.1) of the sound, which sounded quite good; both the music and the dialog were loud and clear. One thing I liked is how well I could hear the voices over background noise without having to fiddle with my stereo system constantly. Hey, I'm a deaf old geezer and I'm tired of shouting "what?" all the time and rewinding the disc every 5 minutes because I'm afraid I missed a plot point somewhere.
The first DVD release of this movie was only available in pan & scan so this anamorphic widescreen release also righted a wrong. The picture itself looks crisp - there's no breathtaking cinematography that the DVD format is generally so good at showcasing, but you will ooh and ahh over all the bright colors in the club - especially the purples - and the lovely exteriors filmed mainly in Minnesota in the fall.
I do have one big complaint with this special edition: Where the hell was Prince? Three featurettes were produced for this release and just about everyone involved with the movie was there except the one person who this whole brouhaha was about. He was also missing from the obligatory commentary, which was only halfway interesting. The movie was fairly low-budget and I enjoy hearing about the creative steps filmmakers take to get movies completed. Still, hearing from Prince would have been invaluable since he is the heart and center of this film. I'm sorry he chose not to talk about something that is regarded by many as the crown on his popularity.
I did like the music videos included - well, again mainly those of the Time, and the MTV premiere featurette was an amusing blast from the past. Ah, the good old days when MTV actually showed music videos...
I can't see this movie appealing to anyone but die-hard Prince fans. I was more disappointed than I thought I would be; usually I can find some sort of appeal in this type of narcissistic filmmaking if the narcissist in question has any sort of charisma. Prince might put on a hell of a live show; I wouldn't know. If he was trying to be edgy by deliberately playing an unlikable character, that's fine; just don't have everyone at the end of the movie all of a sudden love him again just because time's running out. And if he was just playing himself - bleah.