If it wasn’t for Purple Rain, no one east of Madison would have ever heard of Lake Minnetonka and First Avenue wouldn’t have turned into a Minneapolis tourist trap (well, at least for the duration of the mid ‘80s). Sad to say, revisionism has cast Purple Rain as falling short of Prince’s other cinematic efforts in qualities both genuine and illicit. As a collection of electrifying concert clips, it pales when compared to his 1987 documentary portrait of his classic Sign o’ the Times tour. (It also has an ever-so-slightly superior soundtrack, but who would dare decide between the two, especially when the earlier LP has Prince’s single finest moment: the rapturous “Beautiful Ones”?). On the other side of the coin, Under the Cherry Moon has all the overtly campy, “bad movies we love” audaciousness. Purple Rain‘s gazillion-selling soundtrack album has more or less eclipsed the film in pop-culture history books. But anyone who’d dismiss it out of turn must be blind to how Albert Magnoli’s uncomplicated scenario (i.e. Prince’s idealized life story) harnesses the most elemental archetypes of the success story narrative framework and, more importantly, stands well clear out of the way of Prince (dubbed “The Kid” in the film) when the time comes for him to prove his musical talent. Like the best musicals of the golden age, Prince’s tunes serve as the means by which his emotionally stifled character is allowed the opportunity to express his true feelings. Given that throughout the course of the film his life is clouded by jeers from his mainstage competition Morris Day (who would dare call Prince a “faggot,” toting that button-cute manservant Jerome around like he does), the threat of mutiny from his backing band the Revolution because he won’t perform the titular ballad written by Wendy and Lisa, and domestic turmoil between his parents, his dark onstage expressions (the outraged sex taunt “Darling Nikki”) are in severe danger of killing his fragile business relationship with First Ave’s owner. The film is obvious, and conflict is merely prelude to (Prince and) the Resolution, but Magnoli’s professional, downright neorealistic approach to filming the concert clips almost disguises how audacious a structural conceit is the film’s climax: nearly a half-hour of musical numbers that render the solipsism of Prince’s vanity project entirely justifiable. The color purple signifies royalty, Morris.
- Albert Magnoli
- Albert Magnoli, William Blinn
- Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Olga Karlatos, Clarence Williams III
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