THE BEGINNING

A couple of month’s before the death of Prince, Andrew Anderson dedicated his Singing Pictures movie column to Purple Rain. It’s mad, of course. And brilliant.

prince

PURPLE RAIN (1984)
If God were to create the perfect musician to star in a film they’d probably look a lot like Prince. Flamboyant to a fantastic degree, self-mythologising like a motherfucker and with charisma coming out of the love symbol, playing Prince in a film is quite literally the role Prince was born to play. And I’m not alone in thinking this: Purple Rain, his only serious feature film*, made huge money for the minuscule Minnesota man, garnering $80 million and a good deal of critical acclaim. Add on the chart–topping album of the same name and you’ve got Prince in the middle of a serious purple patch… a Purple Rain patch, if you will (sorry).

This terrible punning leads me to the content of the film. If you were to guess what would be in a Prince film I bet your top three would look something like this:

1) Prince acting like a man with the biggest case of blue balls in history

2) Great tunes

3) Weird shit

Well, you’d be right. Prince spends about 100 minutes of this 111 minute film writhing around, shagging things/people, making big puppy eyes, pouting, thrusting, licking stuff and generally being a pubey pile of pure sexuality (the film’s closing shot – the very last thing you see – is prince wanking his guitar neck off so that it shoots thick ropes of jizz onto his eager audience).

And yes, it’s packed with tunes. ‘When Doves Cry’, ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and of course the titular track ‘Purple Rain’ are all present, but even the lesser known numbers are soulful, stompin’ and so silly you can’t help but smile.

I mentioned punning before – and that’s where the weirdness comes in. Although this is a serious film that deals with domestic abuse, difficult relationships and artistic self-doubt, the script also contains a number of jokes that could have come from the pen of Barry and Paul Chuckle. There is, for example, an interminable scene where two members of Prince’s rival band, The Time, fail to understand one another. “The password is what,” says one. “The password is what?” says the other. “Yes, what.” “What?” “WHAT.” And so on, until you find yourself shouting ‘WHY IS THIS IN THE FILM, WHAT THE HELL HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH ANYTHING???’ But you know the answer: it’s here because Prince is weird, that’s why. Deal with it.

Okay, so let’s take a look at the plot. Prince plays ‘The Kid’ who is essentially Prince by another name. His band, The Revolution, has a residency at a nightclub in St Paul, Minnesota, alongside two other rival bands (including the aforementioned The Time). The Kid lives at home with his mum and dad, the latter a failed musician who beats the crap out of his wife and Prince on a fairly regular basis. Why Prince – who is in his mid twenties and has tons of cash to spend on flash motorbikes and guitars – is living at home is not satisfactorily explained.

Anyway, Prince is a bit of a nob and treats his band mates badly (especially the female ones), refusing to listen to the songs they have written and generally acting like a massively spoilt 12 year old. The owner of the nightclub threatens to terminate his contract because “Your music makes sense to no one but yourself!”

He also develops a love interest (Apollonia Kotero) who he jerks around and ends up punching when she dares to dream of having her own singing career. Essentially, Prince is acting just like his Dad… but his Dad then shoots himself so Prince realises he had better stop being a bell end or else he’ll end up doing the same thing one day.

Cue a triumphant return to the stage where Prince finally plays a song written by his female band members to show he now respects them (though of course he takes all the credit for it, typical man), wins over the nightclub owner (who finally recognises that Prince is a great entertainer), and shoots jizz from his guitar all over everyone (because who wouldn’t want to be jizzed on by Prince?).

What surprised me most about Purple Rain is how flawed Prince shows himself to be. His childish behaviour, jealous rages and manipulative actions do not put him in a sympathetic light. Yet it works, because it feels honest. Yes he is a weird diva, but he is admitting it and, at the end of the film, shows that he is willing to change. Of course that change gets celebrated in a scene that only the maddest egomaniac could dream up… but no one’s perfect.

That is not to say Purple Rain isn’t without problems. The way women are treated in the film is, frankly, appalling. The premise too – that all these amazing bands play in the same venue every single night to the same audience – is a bit daft. And the acting… well, that’s not much better. Apollonia Kotero’s delivery is so wooden it would make a termite drool, while Prince’s performance could draw valid comparisons with a Viagra–fuelled Furby.

However, it does work. Prince is a songwriter and performer so compelling that even when he is at his most self-indulgent and ridiculous he’s still good. You want to laugh at him – and if you watch this film you will – but it won’t be a derisive laugh. It will be one of merriment, as you think to yourself, ‘Oh Prince, what are you like!’

As it turned out, ‘Purple Rain’ proved to be the zenith of Prince’s considerable powers. He managed to match it for a good few years with records like ‘Sign o’ the Times’ and ‘Batman’, but ‘Purple Rain’ was never bettered. These days he’s best known for doing weird shit like asking Questlove to DJ a party and then pulling the plug so he can watch Finding Nemo, or building his own private hair salon inside his bedroom. And that’s a shame – because Prince, for all his flaws, is pretty amazing.

*Prince did write, star in and direct a sequel called Graffiti Bridge which, as with quite a lot of his later output, it’s best to pretend never happened.

dot