Monday, December 31, 2012

Purple Rain (1984)

It's been decades since I first saw this, but when it debuted I recall going to 13 showings, before it left the theaters, then enjoying a couple of screenings when it came out on VHS.

Since a large part of the movie was deliberately campy even 28 years ago, it's hard to say what is really dated and what is not. Even back then, Morris Day's clothes and antics were not supposed to be "normal" and Prince's stylings were always considered unique. Those things didn't actually represent the eighties and were probably viewed as whimsically odd then as they look now. I think it's chiefly the dialogue that has suffered over time.

But the music has held up well. Maybe I didn't get as much of a thrill from the film sequences playing along with When Doves Cry ran, as I did back then, but that pulsing beat still works and Prince's stage presence is/was undeniable. I wanted to run out and buy a Prince Live DVD and spin some of his hits from before and after Purple Rain. If I still had a turntable, I'd dust it off for Dirty Mind, Raspberry Beret, Little Red Corvette, and remember that there's no particular sign he's compatible with Prince just wants my extra time and my . . . kiss! What an incredible, innovative talent he was. He's still brilliant today, but everyone has caught up with him, so it's easy to lose sight of just how original he was back then.

The movie's musical performances are still good, but today the plot is not only as thin as it was in 1984, but more troubling than it would have been perceived then. I can't imagine a contemporary audience laughing at the way Morris Day had a pesky one night stand thrown into a garbage dumpster in 2012. It makes you squirm just like watching Jimmy Cagney shove a grapefruit in Mae Clarke's face does now. Of course, Prince (or The Kidd) is much worse. He grew up watching his father beat his mother (and was probably pounded on himself), making largely failed attempts to rescue her. So, it's realistic that when his own girlfriend frustrates him, he reflexively strikes her. The movie lets us see that this is a cycle of violence, but not necessarily something that is tormenting Prince.

He honestly seems as sorry that his alcoholic, abusive father never made it in the music business than that his mother was victimized. After the father shoots himself, his wife sits tearful vigil by his hospital bed and Prince looks on them tenderly. There's no sense that maybe the father's death would have finally brought peace or been justified and no promise that when he recovers he will have learned his lesson and will no longer bully his spouse or even that cessation is one of her priorities. Prince's girlfriend, Apollonia, is more upset that he hurt her feelings in a jealous pique than she cares that he smacked and pounced on her.

When he throws her on the pavement in one scene, she dares him to hit her and says it couldn't pain her more than he has already by mocking her with the delicious Darling Nikki diddy, which labeled her a "sex fiend" and demeaned their relationship. I don't think that implementing a "no tolerance" violence policy ever occurred to her, as a condition of reconciliation. Her acceptance of his assaults is particularly irksome due to his slight physical stature. The petite Apollonia is probably the only person in the world that Prince might be stronger than (he is barely taller than her in his heels), so for him to physically intimidate her speaks of a cowardice that is very typical of abusers. Very realistic and yes very common, but still not something to be taken for granted or glossed over so lightly. The attacks were played for shock value, rather than character failings. I suppose it would be hard to find a 25-30 year old movie that was not laced with misogyny. But this one might be worse than most.

All in all, this movie was a triumph and a good documentation of Prince at his peak. I saw him in concert many times and he was every bit as mesmerizing live as he was on stage in this flick. Prince wasn't a particularly good actor, but he had a devilish, adorable smile that brought the "Baby, I'm a Star" lyrics to life. Morris Day was charming in a surprisingly natural way, given the over-the-top role. Freckled, funny, crazy, human. Wonder what ever happened to him and The Time. The moment when he taunts his rival, Prince ("how's the family") but then pauses in thoughtful shame is still touching and true. People say and do many things when they have an audience that their conscience would take back later.

It's also sweet when Prince is cleaning up the cellar that he wrecked after his father's attempted suicide and finds Apollonia's discarded earring. A gift that he gave her. He picks it up and tosses. She catches it. We did not know that she was sitting on the cellar steps, reunited with her love. Nice reunion reveal.

Catching up with this movie was not a bad way to spend holiday time. I hadn't forgotten why I was such a Prince fan. I didn't need a reminder, but a good time never gets old and even in 2012, we still want to party like it's 1999.

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