PURPLE RAIN (1984)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on June 30th, 2010 by Jim Delaney


From Tuesday March 29, 2007
CoWritten-n-Directed by Albert Magnoli, starring Prince & The Revolution, Apollonia6, Morris Day & The Time, Jerome Benton, Billy Sparks, Olga Karlatos and Clarence Williams III.

Yeah, the acting is laughable (hence Apollionia Kotero‘s Razzie nomination).
Yeah, the story is thin … and also pretty laughable (brooding boy meets pretty girl meets funnier boy!).
Yeah, it’s loaded with rock cliches (a battle of the bands? Who’da thunk?! And your parents just don’t understand?! No way!)
Who cares?!
In all the years of the Lunch Movie, we finally have a TV big enough, clear enough and loud enough to do justice to the Oscar winning soundtrack and explosive club performances. Since those make up more than 1/2 the movie, I can promise most of your time will be well-spent.

I’ll finish 2morro
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 6.30.10
From Sunday May 30, 2010 at Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Cinespia, the organizers of summer screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, send out an email each Spring to solicit fans requests for the coming season. Since 2005, PURPLE RAIN has been on my list. Each year I request fewer titles, hoping to give greater emphasis to the ones I hope to see. When I left Los Angeles in 2009, I promised my friends I would return if ever Cinespia played PURPLE RAIN. This Spring I requested a single title. A few weeks later, my friend Sahara told me that it’s put-up-or-shut-up time. Yes, I flew over 6,000 miles round-trip to see a movie I’ve already seen, and already own. And it was worth it.

I have always been a sucker for stories of redemption. PURPLE RAIN is unusual among these sorts of movies in that, if you simply take your cues from dialogue and events, you won’t get much of a sense of epiphany. The script has its shortcomings in revealing the stages of The Kid’s transformation. If you are paying attention to the total experience though, moments that would have been shortchanged by the script are made up for both in Magnoli’s direction and Prince’s songs.

During it’s initial release, PURPLE RAIN did not escape controversy for what some saw as glorifying violence against women. This concern was echoed by a few friends of mine who saw the movie for their first time at Cinespia. Why, isn’t this after all a movie about musicians!?! Aren’t they all supposed to be junkies, especially in the 80’s?! Their vice is booze, weed, blow, horse, whatever else they’ve been getting their hands on between Preminger‘s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, through Eastwood‘s BIRD and Stone‘s THE DOORS, and as recently as CRAZY HEART.

By rejecting the stereotypical movie-musician’s deadliest sins of Greed or Gluttony and imbuing The Kid (Prince) with a mix of Wrath and Pride, screenwriter William Blinn and co-writer/director Albert Magnoli have also changed the journey The Kid’s transformation takes. Rather than confronting demons within him, he needs to confront his inability to face anyone else. I suspect that scenes of men hitting women would have drawn less scorn had they been in a standard drama about a seemingly regular, i.e. white or non-interracial, Main Street family coping with some terrible secret. Co-writer Blinn created STARSKY & HUTCH, raising television violence to unprecedented levels in 1975. He had earned a pass dealing with domestic abuse before by setting it in police or crime-focused dramas.

A more obvious film would have made a conversational point of the degrees of separation The Kid uses to distance himself from any real emotional or spiritual connection. Magnoli instead illustrates this with repeated use of masks and obscured faces. Look at how often The Kid hides behind one mask or another: the moment he meets Apollonia, on go his over-sized mirrored Lennon-specs. Sure, he thinks he’s being cool and mysterious, but with the shot placing you in Apollonia’s shoes, it’s just friggin’ creepy. The same shades reappear when Jill, a cocktail waitress smitten with The Kid, tries to hand him a cassette of a song written by two women in The Kid’s band The Revolution.

In a sequence as psychologically abusive as any of the physical moments, during his performance of the songs “Computer Blue” and “Darling Nikki,” The Kid taunts Apollonia from stage with his eyes hidden behind a black lace mask. If that is not enough evidence, then I refer you to the extensive cast of clowns, harlequins and painted eyes adorning the basement where The Kid lives. Seeing the movie on a large screen for the first time in 25 years showed me two mask-related details that do not play as well on video: Jill’s trembling reflection in The Kid’s shades when she hands him the cassette, and three portraits of beautiful tragic and lonely Marilyn Monroe among the faces in The Kid’s basement lair.

Magnoli keeps more than masks up his sleeve. He manages to exemplify an epic warrior’s journey in a single shot during the montage accompanying “When Doves Cry.” On video you would easily enough spot The Kid riding his purple Honda bike through a concrete underpass tunnel. It takes a massive screen image to spot the details on the sides of the tunnel: graffiti on one side bears the circle/cross female symbol, and the other the circle/arrow male symbol. On one side is spray-painted “Love,” the other “God,” and The Kid needs to ride through all of it to reach his destination. It doesn’t get any more pronounced than that without someone breaking down in a tearful monologue.

We are told by several characters that The Kid’s music only makes sense to him. If you can separate the background songs on the soundtrack from the songs The Revolution performs on stage, you will see what those other voices were saying, and you will also see Prince’s illumination of The Kid’s journey. The Revolution’s opening song “Let’s Go Crazy” is an ode to fun and an anthem of irresponsibility. The next time we see The Revolution, “The Beautiful Ones,” is loaded with wounded suffering and mocking jealousy. If you have any doubt that The Kid has hit a personal rock bottom and lost all sight of himself, I refer you to the aforementioned “Computer Blue”/”Darling Nikki” sequence. It follows a dreary moment where The Kid tries to confront his father for abusing his mother, and instead finds his father drunkenly playing a piano in the basement. “Never get married,” his father admonishes him as we segue into “Computer Blue,” wherein The Kid’s guitar solo — listen carefully y’all — is exactly the same tune his father had been playing on the piano. Coincidence, or learned behavior from an abusive father to a growingly abusive son?

Stories of redemption only resonate when the character being redeemed hits rock bottom, realizes it, and then tries to change. I’ve already said too much about the first two acts. I don’t want to ruin the transcendental lyrics of the final set for the uninitiated, but I urge you to listen most closely to “I Would Die 4 U.” Balance that brief song against the opening “Let’s Go Crazy,” and then chart the course Prince, Magnoli and Blinn have taken you on. PURPLE RAIN is less than perfect, but I respect the hell out of it for trying to tell a more introspective story than often emerges from a Hollywood summer popcorn movie. I leave you with the thought that the photo below does not do justice to the amount of lighters, cellphones, sparklers and souls alight during the finale at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and I wish you could have seen it.

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