Why the movie ‘Purple Rain’ matters

BY STEVEN REA
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

Prince made one great rock movie, the semi-autobiographical star-is-born psychodrama “Purple Rain,” released in 1984 in tandem with the album.

Singer Apollonia Kotero starred with Prince in “Purple Rain.’’
Singer Apollonia Kotero starred with Prince in “Purple Rain.’’

Sure, the plot is corny, and sure, Prince is not exactly Laurence Olivier. But in the same way that the Beatles (and director Richard Lester) made “A Hard Day’s Night” into a rollicking film experience with an energy and urgency all its own, “Purple Rain” transcends its marketing mission.

The movie rocks, and not just because the music does.

In a weird way, “Purple Rain” (directed by Albert Magnoli, would go on to become Prince’s manager) defined its times — not just in the fashions, the music, the makeup, the hair, but in the hurt that Prince’s hero wears on his (puffy) sleeve, and in the sexual energy that drives the narrative.

The Kid
Prince would go on to star in and assume the directing duties on two more features – “Under the Cherry Moon” (1986) and “Graffiti Bridge” (1990), a “Purple Rain” sequel of sorts — but it’s “Purple Rain” that matters most.

In it, Prince is the Kid, frontman for a Minneapolis band called The Revolution. He rides a big Honda bike, wears frilly blouses, dramatic scarves and toreador pants, his black hair in a giant pouf.

His family life is a mess: His father (Clarence Williams III) is an abusive tyrant, his mother (Olga Karlatos) a drunk, too afraid to leave. The Kid finds salvation on the stage, and thinks he’s found another kind of salvation in the arms of the beautiful Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero). He takes her for a ride into the country where she goes skinny dipping, and where he watches, happy and clothed.

Back on stage
But the Kid and Apollonia’s romance is short-lived: A fellow musician, Morris Day of the band The Time (played by the real-life singer and band), lures Apollonia away for his new girl group, and when the Kid hears she’s leaving, he slaps her around. It’s a disturbing echo of the behavior the Kid’s father meted out back home.

Roaring, self-searching motorcycle rides are in order, and brooding pit stops in his dressing room, and then some thrashing, spinning, mesmerizing music back onstage. Which is where the Kid, and Prince, truly belonged.

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