Welcome to The 30 Dozen, a monthly exploration of the films that, like me, turn thirty this year. These are films that have been residing on my must-see list for ages, and those which I’m only now crossing off as together we each approach our third decade on this planet. As I examine one of these movies per month, I hope to glean from each some perspective on my approach of the big 3-0.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome The Revolution.
How I managed to exist this long without seeing Purple Rain is beyond my comprehension. If I fancy myself a connoisseur of anything (and I usually don’t refer to myself as a connoisseur because connoisseur is hard to spell), it would be cult movies and 80s music. Seriously, name an 80s one-hit-wonder, and I’ll give you the song. Ask me which was Corman’s most expensive film or the alternate title of Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, and you’ll have that information faster than you can wonder why you were seeking it in the first place. So how did the perfect combination of two of my favorite things go unseen by these eyes for so long?
Meanwhile, my ears had been savoring Purple Rain for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved Prince’s music, and the soundtrack album for this film is pure magic. My affinity for this album has only intensified over the last few years with the infusion of karaoke into my life. Something about belting (read: butchering) his squealing verse interludes gives one an appreciation for the mauve-clad minstrel.
And now, the big moment. Pressing play.
…did he just…why are they…
…why would any woman in the world go in for…
…ok, no way in hell is he about to…oh damn.
I guess what I was expecting was a 111-minute concert video. Surely, a narrative would be attempted, and surely Prince’s attempts at genuine performance would be the source of the movie’s renowned cult status. Right? Oh, so so wrong. Purple Rain is not a flimsy promotional mouthpiece for its star, but instead a deeply troubling psychological nightmare. If there is a theme to be mined from this carousel of sound and fury, it’s essentially a movie about how the male gender is a horrid, despicable race.
Prince stars as “The Kid,” who is equal parts raging rocker and loathsome Lothario. His story arc is a short trip from marginal professional success (being the number one headliner in a sleezy Minnesota rock club) to professional success AND a gorgeous girlfriend/emotional hostage. This is the classic boy-meets-girl, boy-abuses-girl, girl-can’t-seem-to-leave-abusive-boy tale. Prince’s courtship rituals are the rancid stuff of douche lore. And yet for each of his calculated assaults on gender equality, the stunningly beautiful Apollonia not only opts for reconciliation, but often assumes blame for his transgressions.
Take for example, the “purification scene.”
The Kid, enamored of Apollonia, sees her at a mall and, as most blue-blooded boys would do, steals a piece of her jewelry and then basically abducts her as she tries to retrieve it. Sounds like a winning first date, right? Ooooooh boy just you wait. He then takes her out to a lake (one that is decidedly NOT Lake Minnetonka) and demands that she “purify” herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. In a move that would give Freud cause to face-palm, she complies; stripping almost nude and leaping into the frigid waters. Prince then waits until she returns shivering to shore to tell her that they are not standing aside Lake Minnetonka.
How does he follow up this inexplicable prank? He jumps on his bike and takes off; rides away as she desperately re-clothes herself. Sure he comes back, but his return is met with her being apologetically sheepish for how ridiculous she must look being all wet. You know from the lake…into which he tricked her into jumping. THIS. IS. OUR. HERO.
And that is the start of their ongoing relationship in the movie. The word “relationship” takes on rather filthy and maladjusted connotation when viewed through this Purple lens. Even something as intimate and significant as coupling (you know, sexy times) becomes inextricably entangled in horrific manipulation. You see, Prince’s character has recordings of former girlfriends crying, that he then audio-reverses and uses as mood-setting sexy time music for his latest conquests. I can not imagine a more unhealthy relationship that doesn’t end in a bathtub full of lye and a scramble to establish an alibi.
Despite the aforementioned sexual head-gamesmanship, all hope did not seem lost for Apollonia. At one point, she makes a clean break from Prince and, as a result, actually begins to make great strides in her own musical career. Unfortunately it is here in our story of course, that Prince, in his half-pint possessive fury, rides up on his motorcycle and demands her to climb aboard. She does so immediately and, like some sociopathic knight in violet armor, Prince attempts to “rescue” her from…the incalculably better life she is now leading without him.
It was probably just my foolishly optimistic naivete that allowed for the believe of a happy ending for Apollonia (i.e. her Prince-ectomy). Her return to the suffocating, crushed-velvet-clad arms of The Kid were well foreshadowed during a scene in which, after having escaped Prince, she is driven out of a club in tears of jealous despair by his song about intense sexual congress WITH A WOMAN WHO DOESN’T EXIST!
Further evidence of the film’s sado-gleeful rejection of feminism are casually strewn about the mise en scene like all those Gothic candle-holders. Prince forces a female accompanying guitarist to play while on her knees before him in one of the most brow-beating intersections of sex and rock-n-roll this side of Tommy Lee’s vacation videos. Oh Oh Oh! And the puppet! At one point, Prince uses a puppet, and shockingly masterful ventriloquy, to thoroughly insult and marginalize his female band members. So he’s a disassociative personality disorder whose alter egos are ALSO MISOGYNISTS!
You also gotta love pick-up lines like this spoken by Morris Day…
“Your lips would make a lollipop too happy”
“In my bedroom…I have a brass…water bed”
I don’t want to say that Morris Day is the villain of the film, because that would intimate that a hero exists.
The levels of male-centric id indulgence in this film are so absurd that it just HAS to be satire, or reproachful commentary at the very least. One little problem: it is furstratingly unclear what it is Purple Rain might be satirizing. All that seems to matter is Prince’s ineffable aura of cool and his litany of phenomenal songs.
At first, sitting in a darkened room as the last credit scrolled into oblivion, I was stymied as to what this movie could possibly have to offer in the way of a perspective on my impending thirtieth birthday. What could I take away from this staggeringly bizarre rockstar vehicle? And then it hit me, Purple Rain terrifyingly adeptly sums up my relationship with film. Specifically, it’s a reflection of the relationship between my passion for film, and my career.
I am not Prince, that much was made evident by my lack of guitar chops and my inability to wedge myself into pants that are so tight as to be legally recognized as sausage casing by the FDA. But more to the point, I’m not Prince in this metaphor…I’m Apollonia. I’m desperately, dangerously in love with the medium of film (which will be the Prince antecedent until this figurative fever dream has ended). I love movies, I will never not love being a journo-pundit, but the sleep-deprivation, the logistical and technical irritants, and the mountains of stress of running a site and, before that, writing for several others have made my specific relationship with my favorite medium rather abusive. For all the time, energy, and money that it costs me to review/discuss film for a living, I can’t seem to bring myself to stay away.
Obviously this is not a perfect metaphor. For one thing, I would like to think my head is not so securely aloft inside my own colon as to think that my demanding professional schedule is AT ALL equal to actually suffering domestic and/or psychological abuse. However, seeing this film for the first time at this point in my life did indeed serve as a bitter reminder that at some point, and probably not one that resides in the distant future, something in my psychological wiring will have to change in order to maintain a healthy love affair with movies.
As it stands, no matter how much mental and physical strain is levied by my passion and my career, and no matter how often I tell myself I want to stop and do something else, film (like Prince) will always be able to spin a mesmerizing sensory web to keep me hopelessly ensnared. It’s a situation mimetic of the overall spectacle of this film. For all its cheesiness (at best) and unsettling views on sexual politics (at every turn), nothing else matters when the first chords of “When Doves Cry” strike up.
As monumental a cock as the lilliputian protagonist proves to be, Prince’s music remains transcendent. That, when all is said and done, appears to be the point of Purple Rain. Prince is the ruler of all creation and we are powerless to resist the siren shriek of his guitar. I feel that there is actually slight homophone-related confusion here. The purple reign of this diminutive demigod shall not be undone by matters as trifling as his character defects.