Purple Rain (1984) Starring Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Olga Karlatos, Clarence Williams III. Directed by Albert Magnoli. Written by Albert Magnoli and William Blinn. Produced by Robert Cavallo, Joseph Ruffalo and Steven Fargnoli. Color. USA Run Time 111 minutes. Drama, Musical
With the sudden passing of Prince, everyone is reexamining his career as an innovator, a musician, a cultural icon and as an actor. Since this is primarily a film blog, we will concentrate on the latter. While we are fans of Prince’s, we are not rabid fans. We did re-watch Purple Rain as a tribute and have been listening to the Sirius channel set up as a tribute while we’re writing this.
As a follow up to his most successful album to date, 1999, released in 1982, Prince made the same move other successful musicians like Elvis Presley and The Beatles had made previously, into the realm of filmmaking, with the release of Purple Rain in 1984.
Supposedly the idea for the movie was dreamed up by Prince himself, while he was on tour supporting the 1999 double album. Semi-autobiographical in nature, the initial screenplay was supposedly darker in nature. Prince also had hoped to cast Vanity of the Vanity 6 in the film, but she had left his management by then and moved on to a solo career. To replace her, Prince cast Apollonia Kotero, an actress he had seen on television.
Purple Rain was filmed in and around Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, with one pickup done in Los Angeles (the hotel where Apollonia stays when arriving in town is in downtown LA). Several scenes were shot at the First Avenue Club, which the movie made famous and which later turned into a center of the mourning for the deceased star.
|The title of the film. The Kid (Prince) is performing "Let's Go Crazy".|
The film starts with The Kid (Prince) and his band, The Revolution, playing “Let’s Go Crazy.” The band is one of three house bands at the First Avenue Club. There is also Morris Day and The Time and Dez Dickerson and The Modernaires. While their music has a similar sound and the groups dress somewhat similarly, none are as talented or look as good as Prince and his band.
|Wendy (Wendy Melvoin), guitar, and Lisa (Lisa Johnson), keyboard, want The Kid to listen to their music.|
But things are not good behind the scenes. Wendy (Wendy Melvoin) and Lisa (Lisa Johnson), the band’s guitarist and keyboardist, are not happy off with The Kid. They have begun writing songs, but he never listens to them.
|The Kid doesn't take Wendy and Lisa's music very seriously, using ventriloquism to turn them down.|
There is pressure at the club, as Billy (Billy Sparks), the club owner, is always wanting full houses. While The Kid is good, he’s not bringing them in like he used to. (Maybe it’s because he appears to do only one song a night.) Morris, who likens himself to be a great entertainer, is always pressuring Billy to get rid of The Kid. Morris convinces Billy that he needs a female group performing at the club.
|Morris Day (Morris Day), on the right, tries to convince Billy (Billy Sparks) to get rid of The Kid.|
And there is trouble at home as well for The Kid. His Mother (Olga Karlatos) and Father (Clarence Williams III) fight often. A former musician, Father is always threatening Mother and when The Kid tries to intervene, he is thrown to the floor.
|The Kid's home life is volatile as Mother (Olga Karlatos) and Father (Clarence Williams III) fight.|
Into this comes Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), a singer from New Orleans, who has come to Minneapolis, hoping to get a gig at First Avenue. Apollonia is tricky and conniving, first she skips out on a $37 plus taxi fare, even though she has the money. After taking a room at a rooming house across the street from the club, she manages to sneak her way in when the bouncer, Chick (Charles Huntsberry), is otherwise occupied. While she doesn’t see Billy, she does get the attention of both Morris and The Kid.
|The Kid, who looks more like he's dressed for the stage |
than a trip to the lake, takes Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) for a long bike ride.
The Kid acts first, taking her on a long motorcycle ride out into the country. When they stop lakeside and talk, she tells him why she came and asks for his help. But at first, he says no, telling her that first she needs to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. That seems to be all the encouragement she needs to strip down to her panties and jump into the water. The Kid tries feebly to stop her, because they’re not at Lake Minnetonka. He then drives off, leaving the half-naked woman alone, but he comes back telling her to get on the bike, only to pull up when she tries to get on. Repeat and repeat, before he lets her on his bike.
|If it means stripping to get The Kid's help, Apollonia is very willing to oblige.|
When they go to his house, his parents aren’t fighting anymore, just the opposite on the living room couch. They sneak into The Kid’s room through a window and make love.
The next morning, Morris, being driven by his sidekick Jerome (Jerome Benton), try to pick Apollonia up by offering her a gig with his band. She accepts.
That night, when she comes over to The Kid’s house, she brings him a guitar she’d seen him eyeing, having hawked a gold anklet to come up with the money. The Kid gives her one of his earrings to wear, sort of like a friendship ring. But when she tells him that she’s going to sing with Morris, he slaps her hard, knocking her to the ground.
The next night, when he’s on stage, he eyes her with Morris and sings “Darling Nikki,” a sexually explicit song, the performance of which humiliates Apollonia, who runs off in tears, which angers both Morris and Billy, further jeopardizing the Kid’s position at the club. Billy will later confront The Kid, making mention of his father’s wasted musical talents, adding that he’s following in the same path.
The debut of the Apollonia 6, her new group, is a big success. Their only song, “Sex Shooter,” is probably the weakest of the songs in the movie, but the women’s attire pleases the males in the audience, as they’re dressed scantily in corsets, stockings and high heels. To show their appreciation, some of the men throw dollar bills at them, like they're strippers rather than musicians.
|Apollonia proudly displays her ample talents on stage.|
After her performance, The Kid grabs her away from a drunken Morris and takes her off on his bike. They argue and she abandons him.
When The Kid returns home, he finds the house is a mess and that his mother is gone. Down in the basement, his father is lurking with a gun. His father, apparently distraught over something, shoots himself in the head. After an ambulance takes his father away and The Kid is questioned by the police, The Kid tears apart the basement to release his anger. As he does, he finds a box of his father’s musical compositions; this is after his father tells him that he doesn’t write them down.
|The Kid finds a box of his father's music, which apparently |
triggers a change in his attitude about Wendy and Lisa's music.
The next day, he plays the cassette of Wendy and Lisa’s song and starts to compose his own lyrics to go with it. That night at the club, he announces the song “Purple Rain” as having been written by Wendy and Lisa. As seems to be his practice, after the one song he prepares to leave the club and ride away on his motorcycle. But before he can he realizes that the audience really likes his song, so he goes back to the stage and plays two encores, winning the approval of everyone, including Billy and Morris.
|Even Morris Day and Jerome (Jerome Benton) approve of The Kid's performance.|
During his performance of “Baby I’m a Star,” we see shots of The Kid visiting in his father in the hospital and kissing his sleeping mother, who is at his bedside. Also, we see The Kid organizing his father’s compositions with Apollonia there as well.
The movie ends as abruptly as it began with a tableaux of The Kid on stage. Snippets of the songs from the movie play under the credits in a rather uneven medley.
When it was released on July 17, 1984, the film did fairly well at the box office, making about $68.4 million off a budget of $7.2 million. Reviews were fairly positive, but not overwhelmingly so. And Prince won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score, the last person to win that award. This was enough success to allow Prince to pursue other film ventures. Purple Rain was followed up by three more films, each of them directed by Prince himself: Under a Cherry Moon (1986), Sign o’ the Times (1987) and Graffiti Bridge (1990), the latter being a sequel to Purple Rain. However, none were as successful as his first.
|Prince was a very dynamic performer in Purple Rain, giving his all for the fans.|
At its best, Purple Rain is a concert film, especially those scenes featuring Prince and the Revolution on stage at First Avenue. Prince is a unique and interesting performer to watch on stage. He can sing, dance and shred the guitar with an onstage persona that is part James Brown, part Jimi Hendrix and part Little Richard, perhaps the first performer to play publicly with gender roles. His songs are best when they’re catchy and dance-able, which thankfully most of them are in this film. But this is strictly the Prince show, while his band the Revolution backs him up, with the exception of Wendy and Lisa, the others have few lines and are not even named, though they do receive credit.
|Oh, yeah, these guys and some other people are also in the Revolution.|
Morris Day and the Time, which started out as a side-project for the prolific Prince, are definitely a step down. Likewise, Dez and the Modernaires are really just fillers. Further down the talent tree are the Apollonia 6, who’s greatest talent seems to be their bodies. Since there are only three members the 6 comes from the number of breasts, which should tell you something about the quality of their singing. Apollonia's own singing career didn't last much longer, as Prince realized she didn't have much of a voice.
|Morris Day leads the Time on stage.|
The film suffers from many ailments, including a rather thin plotline and a lack of motivation for its characters. The father beats his wife and then shots himself, but besides mother keeping a messy house, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the father’s behavior. If he’s a mean drunk, that’s never made clear. The only professional actors in the film, Olga Karlatos and Clarence Williams III (remember Link from the old TV series The Mod Squad), seem somewhat wasted here. Karlatos, who gets higher billing than Williams, doesn’t really have that many lines of dialogue.
|Clarence Williams III is somewhat underused in Purple Rain.|
And say what you will about Prince’s versatility, acting was not his strong suit. His The Kid character comes off as a narcissistic asshole to nearly everyone, including his band mates, the club manager and his girlfriend. He regularly performs one show gigs, which is no way to create a career, doesn’t let his bandmates have any say in the music they play, he pulls the old get on my bike joke with Apollonia and actually slaps her across the face when she says something he doesn’t like. Not a wonderful guy. For a performer, he comes off surprisingly stiff in front of the camera when he’s not on stage.
Blame it on the director, Albert Magnoli, who worked for Prince, that characters seem to react without motivation or get messages that as a viewer I’m not really sure are there. As when Prince sings “Darling Nikki,” Apollonia knows it’s meant as an assailment against her. I know that because she reacted like it was, but given the types of songs Prince was known for playing, this one, about a woman masturbating in public, didn’t seem like it was that much out of line with the rest of his oeuvre nor aimed at Apollonia because she was seeing someone else. Maybe it's me.
The Kid’s family life story seems totally superfluous, as if showing trouble at home would give the story more depth. There really isn’t enough of it to make it worth all the screen time it has. The original concept apparently called for a darker story, so maybe this is left over plot, at least that's how it plays.
Purple Rain is the film that many have turned to following Prince’s death. The film came back to theaters for a limited run and was shown for free by the Minnesota Twins at their stadium in honor of the town’s favorite son. While it is certainly his best film it is honestly not a great movie. It is worth seeing for any Prince fan, that’s for sure. His performances are for the most part very engaging and would be worth the price of admission. But if you’re looking for a great story to go along with the music you will be disappointed.
Perhaps Prince’s memory is best served by what he was known for, his music.