I’m glad I’m not the only one who observed the pervasive misogyny in Purple Rain. Apparently, it’s a well-known feature of the movie. It’s constant from the start and frequently surprising in its intensity. At some point, that frequency wears down any reaction–the only intensifies over the running time. By the end, it’s worn the viewer down so much, there’s a detachment. The last big moments might be the worst in the movie, but I really wasn’t paying attention. The movie deserves a sociological monograph on its misogyny (taking the movie’s popularity–with young women–into account).
As a movie, however, Purple Rain barely qualifies as a narrative. It’s beyond a vanity piece–it’s telling the only time Prince’s performance isn’t terrible is when he’s on stage. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, just because I had MTV (though it probably would have been on VH1 by the time we had cable). As a bunch of music videos strung together, it’s mildly entertaining. The videos are okay. At least Prince isn’t delivering dialogue. The stage performances are all very flashy, lots of light work. They’re fine too. What’s difficult is ascertaining what Prince’s performance is supposed to mean to the story. There’s one sequence where the song he’s performing is upsetting physically abused girlfriend Apollonia (who’s terrible, but in this movie, there isn’t a single good performance and the collective singling out of her terrible acting is unfair). I couldn’t figure out why it was upsetting her. I was still trying to figure out why she was still his girlfriend after he hit her. I’m still unclear if Prince’s hitting her is supposed to be bad. There’s a big thing about his father (Clarence Williams III is the only good actor in the movie, even if his performance isn’t good) hitting the mother. Except the movie ends with Prince lionizing the father….
The movie’s real long–almost two hours–and when I was reflecting on how movies used to run around two hours and I never thought of it as long in the 1980s, it occurred to me it does move pretty well. It’s not involving–as there’s no narrative–and I spent a lot of the running time bewildered. It’s real bad and almost completely incompetent–I can’t believe it was such a big hit.
The supporting cast, though support suggests some content, is terrible as well. Maybe because most of them are Prince’s band members and not actors. I would have thought making music videos would lead to some bad performances, but these don’t even reach this level. Morris Day’s occasionally funny, but I don’t think it’s on purpose. There’s a lengthy scene with him doing a modified “Who’s On First?” where he and the other guy can’t stop laughing through the take.
It’s too bad it isn’t funny.
Directed by Albert Magnoli; screenplay by Magnoli and William Blinn; director of photography, Donald L. Thorin; edited by Magnoli and Ken Robinson; music by Prince, Michel Colombier and John L. Nelson; production designer, Ward Preston; produced by Robert Cavallo, Joseph Ruffalo and Steven Fargnoli; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Prince (The Kid), Apollonia Kotero (Apollonia), Morris Day (Morris), Olga Karlatos (Mother), Clarence Williams III (Father), Jerome Benton (Jerome), Billy Sparks (Billy), Jill Jones (Jill), Charles Huntsberry (Chick), Dez Dickerson (Dez), Brenda Bennett (Brenda) and Susan Moonsie (Susan).