“Because you wouldn’t pass the initiation,” says the Kid. Apollonia asks, “What initiation?” The Kid replies, “Well, for starters, you have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.” Apollonia responds, “What?”
I never was much of a Prince fan, but I always did like him a lot more than Michael Jackson (especially after that hilarious Chappelle’s Show episode featuring Dave Chappelle as Prince that first aired 12 years ago) and have heard great things about many of his songs (not to mention that I do actually own and have listened to the Batman song soundtrack CD many times). Prince’s recent death spurred millions of responses from fans all over the world, a spike in sales of his albums, and many movie theaters screening his feature film debut Purple Rain (the AMC chain even went so far as to do a theatrical re-release for a full week while other theaters did special screenings). I finally got a chance recently to see Albert Magnoli’s Purple Rain on the big screen at a midnight screening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City, and it was an interesting experience (several audience members sang along to some of the songs).
1984’s Purple Rain follows a Minneapolis musician who tries to escape his turbulent home life through his band and music while navigating a competitive club scene and an emerging relationship with an aspiring singer. Magnoli gathered an eclectic cast that includes Prince (as the Kid), Apollonia Kotero (as Apollonia), Morris Day (as Morris), Olga Karlatos (as the Kid’s Mother), Clarence Williams III (as the Kid’s Father), Jerome Benton (as Jerome), Billy Sparks (as Billy), Jill Jones (as Jill), Dez Dickerson (as Dez), Wendy Melvoin (as Wendy), and Lisa Coleman (as Lisa). Prince gives a charismatic performance that is just fascinating to watch (there are perhaps even a couple of moments that come off as unintentionally hilarious but are still fun to watch); his acting and musical performances are the film’s anchor (his Kid comes off as a kind of musical James Dean-type). Kotero is quite sensual as the aspiring singer Apollonia (the lake scene is one of my favorites). Day gives an over-the-top performance as the Kid’s main competition who schemes to get him kicked out of the club and drive a wedge between him and Apollonia. Williams III is also memorable as the Kid’s abusive yet complicated father.
The screenplay by Magnoli and William Blinn mostly succeeds in the juggling between the Kid’s struggles with his home life, music career, and relationship with Apollonia (some elements, such as the sexism toward women, date the film). Magnoli’s editing and direction succeed more with the song performances, which are amazing (particularly the ones performed by Prince and the Revolution, which also succeed thanks to Donald E. Thorin’s camerawork). The title song, Purple Rain, is nearly worth the price of admission, and other songs such as Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry, and Baby I’m A Star make the film worth watching (Prince won a much-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Song Score in the category’s final year of existence). Magnoli’s Purple Rain is an Oscar-winning cult classic that serves as a perfect showcase for Prince’s talents and, although not a great film, it is certainly a good one that largely holds up after all these years thanks to Prince’s magnetic performance in his first (and best film).