Awesome ’80s in April: Purple Rain (1984)

purple rain poster

In my review of Desperately Seeking Susan, I talked a little about how Madonna and Michael Jackson were the biggest stars of the 1980s. One could argue that Prince was up there, too. He had numerous hit songs and his style was very much a part of that decade.

I liked some of his songs, but if I’m behind honest, I wasn’t really that into him. I’ve never really ventured beyond his hits and it was decades after its release before I had even heard the song “Purple Rain” much less seen the movie.

I’ve learned to appreciate more of his music over the last few years and was happy to use the Awesome ’80s in April as an excuse to finally watch this film.

As a piece of cinema, as a narrative story, Purple Rain is not great. As a time capsule, as a snapshot of Prince in this particular stage of his career it is pretty fascinating. As a music video, it is freaking fantastic.

They say the story is more or less autobiographical with Prince pretty much playing himself. Here he’s called The Kid and he’s an up-and-coming musician in Minneapolis along with his band The Revolution. They have a regular gig at the First Avenue nightclub (an actual Prince haunt) but the headliners are Morris Day and The Time. The two groups have a less-than-friendly rivalry.

The Kid has a lot of talent, but his personal life is a mess. His father (Clarence Williams III) was a musician as well, but he never made it big and is now an alcoholic and abusive husband. Two of the women in The Revolution hand him the music to “Purple Rain” a song that they wrote, but he refuses to listen to it. He wants to be the star.

He starts a relationship with Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) but when her own musical career starts to take off the Kid suddenly makes those lyrics from “When Doves Cry” become reality (“Maybe I’m just too demanding/Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold”). He becomes jealous and abusive. He also plays a brutal rendition of “Darling Nikki” at the club while staring directly at her.

If this movie is autobiographical then Prince does not come off as a good guy. The weird thing is the film doesn’t really give him much of a redemption arc. He does come to realize that he’s becoming more like his father, but he doesn’t really apologize to Apollonia or the band. His only real action is to finally perform “Purple Rain” and even then he doesn’t acknowledge that it was written by his bandmates.

It is, however, a brilliant performance of that song and at that moment I can forgive him, too. All the songs and performances are terrific. They really are the reason to watch the film. And for that, it is well worth watching. Just don’t come expecting a great story or any real insight into Prince, the character, or the person.

3 thoughts on “Awesome ’80s in April: Purple Rain (1984)

    • Indeed. I only recently listened to the whole thing. Prince is one of those artists who I never paid much attention to beyond the hits. Recently I’ve started digging in and what a wealth of great music he produced.

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