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A young man with a talent for music has begun a career with much promise. He meets an aspiring singer, Apollonia, and finds that talent alone isn't all that he needs. A complicated tale of his repeating his father's self destructive behavior, losing Apollonia to another singer (Morris Day), and his coming to grips with his own connection to other people ensues. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It's no use. Arguments about the potato-chip thin script, the haphazard direction and some of the most laughable non-acting ever photographed for a film, will prove ineffectual. Such conditions have existed in the realm of film vehicles for music stars since the genre began, (with some mind-boggling examples of the worst of the lot offered by every star from Elvis, to Frankie Avalon, to Vanilla Ice.) What you watch these movies for is not the deep plots, solid writing or impeccable direction. It's for those moments of electricity that leap off the screen, strike you right in the butt and have you dancing in your theater seat, as the magic of a performer at his or her peak, in their heyday, turns a few minutes of film into a literal celebration of life.
Such is the case with PURPLE RAIN, the one film that, as far as I'm concerned, effectively captured the raw essence of the good ol' "ME" Decade.
In a thinly-disguised version of the events that shaped his career and his life, The Purple One starred as a brilliant songwriter and musician simply known in Minnesota music circles as "The Kid." There are three distinct storylines, all of which have been around since Mickey and Judy put on shows for the neighborhood. One documents the intensive rivalry existing between Prince's band and the Time, fronted by the charismatic poseur and self-described "Lay-deez Man" Morris Day, (who in a satirical and self-effacing performance, manages to effectively steal every scene he is in.) The battle is waged nightly at Minneapolis' legendary First Avenue Club, (where Prince really did get his start with other leading lights like Andre Cymone, Jesse Johnson and Morris).
In the second, the two frontmen battle even harder for the affections of new-girl-in-town Appolonia (Appolonia Kotero, in her debut, and biggest screen role to date.)
The third reflects "The Kid's" struggle with his inner demons and the source of his problems dealing with his career and his personal relationships: the volatile, strained marriage between his equally brilliant but tragically broken father, Francis L. (Clarence Williams III) and headstrong mother (Olga Karlatos). The scenes between the three of them have provoked uncontrollable snickers with their over-the-top hystrionics, but those few moments they work, they do carry an undeniable power, and a window into "The Kid's" tortured psyche that fans were only privy to before through the music.
And ultimately, that is what PURPLE RAIN is all about: the power of music to transcend, transform and uplift everything it touches for good or for ill, though good is ultimately the strongest influence it exudes. Prince's chart-topping, Oscar winning song score found The Artist at his dazzling best, and director Magnoli made a wise call including as much scintillating concert footage as possible.
The Battle of the Bands sequences are wondrous to behold, with both The Revolution and The Time at their tightest, loosest and funkiest all at once. Even the vocally-deficient, amply-augmented Appolonia 6 (formerly Vanity 6) sparkles.
The remaining cast all do the best they can with what moments they're given, the standouts besides Williams III and Karlatos being the hysterical rapport between Day and Time mascot Jerome Benton, and some refreshingly confrontational moments between "The Kid" and former bandmates Wendy and Lisa, which threaten at times to edge into the territory of cinema verite, rather than just popcorn-driven melodrama.
But capturing one of the decade's defining cultural touchstones is the true purpose of PURPLE RAIN, and to this day, you can talk to people who can still remember where they were and what day and time it was the first time they heard "When Doves Cry." With "1999" running a close second, this was Prince's masterwork, and even though he still produces material with flashes of profane, profound, funk-fueled brilliance, he still has yet to top the creative bar he raised for himself and everybody else back in 1984.
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