Sunday, April 01, 2007


Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas

Just in time for April Fool's Day comes the White Elephant Blog-a-Thon being coordinated by Ben at Lucid Screening.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, those willing to participate sent Ben a title of a movie that they wanted to see someone else in the film blogosphere review and in return were assigned a title of their own to write about. I was mean: Someone out there is going to have to write about Bio-Dome (Forgive me, Steve), so I expected to get a title I'd similarly dread but that at least I would be able to pull out the knives for.

Imagine my surprise when my assignment turned out to be Prince's Purple Rain. Granted, it's been more than two decades since I'd seen it, but I didn't remember it being painful. (Under the Cherry Moon, that would have been a different story.)

By Edward Copeland
When Ben first gave me my film assignment of Purple Rain, I was sort of disappointed. I also was relieved. I'd anticipated something truly dreadful that I would have to lacerate, but my 20+ year-old memories of Purple Rain were mostly fond ones, so I figured at least it wouldn't be a painful experience. Then I rewatched the movie.

Being in the throes of adolescence in the 1980s must have really warped my taste at the time, because boy is the movie laughable now. Of course, I also remember adult film critics at the time giving Purple Rain positive reviews, so what the hell was their excuse?

The first disappointment was that the DVD was cropped and not in its original aspect ratio. However, the proper image wouldn't have helped. The things I remembered fondly about Purple Rain still hold true: The music remains great and Morris Day and his sidekick Jerome provide a lot of fun.

I'd forgotten the scene where Jerome unceremoniously takes a woman that Morris doesn't wish to deal with and dumps her in an alley trash bin. Unfortunately, the music stops from time to time to make way for dialogue, attempts at storytelling and, I use the term loosely, acting. In these parts of the movie, it isn't just doves that are crying.

One thing I recall noticing at the time but had since forgotten is how, for some reason, nearly everyone in the cast uses their own name: Apollonia plays Apollonia, Morris and Jerome play Morris and Jerome, Day's band is called The Time and Prince's band is called The Revolution. However Prince is not Prince: His character is The Kid.

I remembered the story strand involving his abusive father (Clarence Williams III, whose late 1960s TV series The Mod Squad actually seems less dated than Purple Rain), but I'd forgotten that we were supposed to believe that "The Kid" still lives at home. So much has transpired since 1984, I'd forgotten (or blocked out) the similarities between Prince and Michael Jackson, not in terms of music, but just in style and appearance. Their similar androgyny and tiny speaking voices, their tendency to wear clothes that look as if Liberace had been placed in charge of designing an army's uniform. The scene that frightened me the most as The Kid, after being mean to bandmates Wendy and Lisa for no apparent reason, proceeds to have a pseudo-conversation with a strange popup puppet while sitting in front of his dressing room mirror. When you take Prince off the stage, there is little evidence of charisma, let alone signs of acting talent within, not that there are many real actors for him to work with. His scenes with Williams are few and Morris Day and Jerome simply blow him off the screen with their flamboyant energy. Villains often turn out to be the most interesting characters in a movie, but it's rare when you wish the movie was only about them and the protagonist would just go away.

Purple Rain was one of the earliest examples of film as music video. I'd forgotten that the movie's sequence for "When Doves Cry" was nearly identical to the actual music video that played on MTV (though minus the scene of Prince rising out of the bathtub). The "dramatic scenes" though are worse.

When The Kid gets around to performing "Darling Nikki," I'm still not clear why Apollonia takes it so personally that she bolts from the club. I don't recall her using a magazine for any purpose. It seems so funny today to remember what an uproar that song caused and how it couldn't be played on radio only to have the Foo Fighters' cover of it get massive airplay decades later. I never got to see my greatest dream for the song: I wanted to hear it recited by John Houseman. (Picture it in your head right now: I knew a girl named Nikki/People say she was a sex fiend/Met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine. Wouldn't hearing Professor Kingsfield read those words have been hysterical?) I digress.

The "screenplay" credited to director Albert Magnoli and William Blinn obviously wants to have a serious subtext about domestic abuse as we see The Kid striking Apollonia much as his father hits his mom, but I'm not clear why they attempted a story. In fact, aside from Morris and Jerome, I can see no reason why an attempt was made to make a narrative feature at all when a concert film would have worked so much better.

In fact, that's basically what the last 20 minutes or so is and it's a grateful relief since the nonmusical scenes suck so badly. When Prince sings, he's magnetic. When Prince acts, it's pathetic.

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Yeah, Prince is not an actor. I remember at the time, a lot of people expected thrills from Under the Cherry Moon. Unfortunately, the soundrack to that was not as electrifying as that for Purple Rain.
And the downside of the music thing is now that he's turned Jehovah's Witness, he's put too many constraints on his songwriting.
At least Prince gave up the moviemaking after his 3rd attempt. Madonna even married a director to keep churning out crappy flicks.
I'm glad you were looking forward to watching this one. I thought when I'd made my submission request that I would at least make it something that I'd watch, and I plan on watching this... one day. Air Bud ugh.
We rented it recently b/c my wife had never seen it. I was struck by the scene in which Prince starts hitting Apollonia -- we were like, no, bad Prince! Don't do that! It was jarring.

This isn't Lake Minnetonka.
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