Friday, June 24, 2016

Albert Magnoli | Purple Rain

baby i’m a star
by Douglas Messerli

I think anyone who knows me realizes that I have never pretended to be knowledgeable about popular music outside of the major performers of my generation, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie. I must have, at one time or another, heard one of Prince’s songs, but I don’t think I ever saw him perform. With his death, after ingesting painkillers, on April 21, 2016, however, I was moved to watch his famed movie, Purple Rain.
      Because of the great popularity and the performer, however, Netflex told me that it would be a “long wait” before I could get my hands on the DVD. It took about a month, accordingly, before I received the film. The short review below is my response.

Albert Magnoli’s 1984 film Purple Rain is a near disaster, with some truly embarrassing acting, at times murky plot twists, and, the overall feel of a long music video instead of a coherent cinema. Despite that, the film is absolutely amazing due to the various songs it contains and to Prince’s sheer energy as guitarist, pianist, dancer, and singer. As he leaps, spins, tumbles, splits, playing a mean guitar while singing remarkable songs such as “Take Me with U,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “When Doves Cry,” and, most particularly, “Purple Rain,” Prince as The Kid exudes so much androgynous sexual energy that anyone with ears and eyes simply has to drop his jaw in wonderment.

       Forget the fact that beautiful Apollonia Kotero can hardly act or, for that matter, even sing; or that Morris Day is more of an old-fashioned in-line strutter than a dynamic musical performer; or even that the relationship of Prince’s battling parents—played in the film by Olga Karlatos and Clarence Williams III—is only tangentially explained. Ignore the film’s ridiculous inconsistencies, where one moment the actors are clearly in the City of Lakes and the very next in Los Angeles. One, perhaps, can even ignore the absurd trope of the plot that the Kid and his group, the Revolution, are in danger of losing their gig due to the greater popularity of The Time, Dez Dickerson and the Modernaires, and the new all-girl group, Apollonia 6. Any viewer immediately knows that the only actor that truly matters here is the great purple one. 
       Watching the thin rail of a man gyrate across the stage with the grace of a ballet-dancer one can hardly be surprised when Prince died he was suffering terrible hip, back, and muscle pains. But then, just as the movie suggests, it is clear that the singer lived for his music and dancing, pouring everything into anthems of a world in which “the beautiful ones…hurt you every time,” and where rain was mixed with a blue sky of blood. In Prince’s old testament view, life was filled with pain, just as was his life. Yet just how innovative that suffering made him in order to survive is astonishing.

Los Angeles, June 24, 2016

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