Through a haze of glitter and autumn leaves stepped one of the coolest cats of all time to turn the silver screen purple. 1984's Purple Rain has been criticised for having a plot not equal to the strength of its music, for the acting ability of its leads not matching the stage presence of Prince. But that's all bullshit. This movie works pretty damned well, more as an extended music video, maybe, but gods. That music is so good, the less to distract from it, the better.
Prince stars as "The Kid", leader of one of the resident bands at a hot Minneapolis club. That's right, Minneapolis! What did you think? Prince is from Minnesota and that's where the film was shot, too. The location lends a sense of space I don't think you'd get in New York or L.A. Also, crucially, Lake Minnetonka is in Minnesota.
But, sadly for Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), nowhere near the lake in this famous scene. Tricking her into stripping down and jumping into the water is just one of the little games the Kid plays with his love interest. You could criticise the movie for never resolving any of its conflicts--his insistence that Apollonia not have her own singing career is never really resolved, for example. But life rarely has resolutions to that kind of thing and songs rarely do, either. And although there is a rough arc, really this movie is like being in a series of moments.
It's appropriate for a story about the cycle of violence. We see how the Kid's father (Clarence Williams III) is physically abusive to the Kid's mother (Olga Karlatos) and we see this violence and compulsion to control manifesting in the Kid's own behaviour. The movie isn't trite enough to attempt to explain the origins of this behaviour. Instead it provides complications, like the father's insistence that, whatever he's done, he'd still die for the Kid's mother and we sense he means it--this ties into the songs "I Would Die 4 U" and "Purple Rain". Oddly, I was also reminded of The Smiths' "What Difference Does It Make?" which was released in Britain the same year, 1984. But Morrissey and Prince have a lot in common, which is probably why Morrissey admired Prince so much.
And I mean Morrissey and not Morris E. Day, or Morris Day, Prince's contemporary and costar in Purple Rain. His performance is livelier and more comedic than Prince's as arguably the film's villain. Goodness, he looks so young.
Prince is in more of the Rebel Without a Cause role, the misfit youth at the centre of so much of 50s and 60s pulp but his more overt femininity adds another dimension to his abusiveness and mischievousness. His M.O. is to step back and be mysterious most of the time. When his bandmates Wendy and Lisa (Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman) yell at him for never listening to one of the songs they wrote, most of his reaction to them is in the inferences they make about his silence. Only once does he directly insult their music and it sounds suspiciously like an ADR line possibly not even delivered by Prince. Apollonia seems drawn to the way he presents puzzles for her, demanding she give him her anklet before sauntering over to a pawn shop window with it. But then he gives it back to her when she asks if he sees anything he likes in the window, as though he's rewarding her for being stylish or creative. There is a demon in the Kid's blood but you can't easily say it makes him good or bad. Sometimes it's bad, sometime it's what makes him magic. The pain inherent in this continuity and contradiction is right there in every scream in the microphone, every impossible guitar riff.
Mostly, though, ye gods, this movie has magnificent music.
Twitter Sonnet #1347
Again the chains have conquered floating heads.
The magic split in triple spheres above.
Throughout the night the bats've made the beds.
A final cot was saved for Jo the dove.
Tomato cartons caught the olive wine.
A gang of horses brought the tunnel up.
The people talked between the ragged twine.
Returning drink accepts the home-ish cup.
The drunken horse returned to castle inn.
A tavern lit in purple sound was built.
Entire towns converged to settle in.
In candle light the evening cards were dealt.
Another candle topped the shape of cake.
The leaves recall the touch of autumn's rake.