By Erin Free

Okay, okay, Purple Rain is not a classic in the same vein as, say, Casablanca or The Godfather, but it’s a classic nonetheless. A kitsch classic perhaps, but still a classic. The film remains the key (and best) cinematic work of the late, great Prince, and that marks it as instantly essential. With the sad, tragic, and horribly premature passing of Prince – one of the most skilled songwriters and astonishingly captivating performers of the modern era – much will continue to be said about the musical output of this icon, and much will be written about his famous struggles with record companies, his confronting brand of sexuality, his undeniable eccentricities, and his singular gift for reinvention.

Not as much will be said, however, of Prince’s occasional detours into the world of film, where he was met with a mix of disdain and confusion, despite boasting a small but sometimes impressive body of work. And while his subsequent efforts – Under The Cherry Moon and the awful Graffiti Bridge, a semi-sequel to Purple Rain – will never attain anything more than curio status, Prince’s best came first.

Prince in Purple Rain
Prince in Purple Rain

The singer’s movie debut came in 1984 with first time director, Albert Magnoli’s glitzy, thundering kind-sorta biopic, which tapped elements of the funk rocker’s life decades before the same was done for Eminem in Eight Mile. As aspiring rock star, The Kid, Prince’s performance was a little stiff and unconvincing, but when it came to the film’s musical sequences, he was near flammable, delivering stunning versions of songs (“Let’s Go Crazy”, the extraordinary title track) that would become some of his biggest and most iconic hits. A striking sight in wet curls, dandy-to-the-extreme wardrobe, and stacked-high boots (“People say I’m wearing heels because I’m short,” Prince once said. “I wear heels because the women like ‘em”), Prince was a movie hero never before seen, a volcanic cocktail of primping peacock and macho brute. “It was extremely rare at the time,” Magnoli told Rolling Stone of Prince’s move into movies, which was orchestrated by the singer himself. “The musician has created an image in one arena and they also know inherently that they’re going to lose control when they move to film. But Prince realised that the platform could be helpful to him and he was willing to venture. It took a certain amount of moxie.”

In the film, his treatment of the women in his backing band – the great Wendy and Lisa – is near sneering and dismissive, while his tricking of romantic interest, Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), into jumping naked into a river is borderline misogynistic. “Now, wait, wait,” Prince said in Rock & Soul when asked about the film’s perceived sexism. “I didn’t write Purple Rain. Someone else did. And it was a story, a fictional story, and should be perceived that way. Violence is something that happens in everyday life, and we were only telling a story. I wish it was looked at that way, because I don’t think anything we did was unnecessary. Sometimes, for the sake of humour, we may’ve gone overboard. And if that was the case, then I’m sorry, but it was not the intention.”

By film’s end, however, The Kid (the victim of a violent father) has learned a lesson in humility and become decidedly more sympathetic. Purple Rain was a smash hit, and while it didn’t quite make Prince a movie star (though it did win him an Oscar!), it still stands as a 1980s classic and an enjoyably unrestrained entry into the rock movie genre. “Prince was all about the music,” Albert Magnoli told The Huffington Post. “He was a musical being. The film gave him another way to communicate his music to a wider audience.”

Purple Rain is screening as part of GOMA’s “Get What You Want: Music Cinema” programme, which runs from September 2-October 2. To buy tickets to Purple Rain, click here.


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