Friday, September 24, 2010

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #15: Purple Rain (1984)

 The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a near weekly feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.
One of the world's great tragedies occurred the moment Prince got religion.  Sure, he's still a strange, wonderful, purple little man; it's just that serious consideration of 'the lord' and the song "Darling Nikki" are two things that make me very disappointed when hooked up in the same sentence.  Born again Prince aside, old school Prince (including his time as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and  Prince logo.svg) is my new power animal.  Every year, we will party like it's 1999.  At every sermon, we will go crazy.  We will use text speak years before it's text speak.  Purple Rain is another of those movies I'd never seen in completion.  I'd seen the same snippet on VH1 for years and that snippet was Vanity 6's "Sex Shooter" song.  I'd found it amusing enough to download in my teen years, but for some reason was never intrigued enough to take it in context and watch the whole epic.  I had, because I am so punny, never been caught in the downpour of Purple Rain.

This past summer, I rectified that situation.  It was a couple months ago now.  I'd dodged some sort of Friday night invitation in favor of curling up on the couch to be perfectly antisocial, and I'd watched Purple Rain start to finish.  Then, I'd skipped back a couple chapters to watch the end musical sequences again.  Then, I watched "I Would Die 4 U" and everything past it one more time.  Then, I was happy for like four days and I preached the gospel of Prince.  I could not believe that I, the long time champion of effeminate men and anemic rock gods everywhere, had never watched this whole movie before.  It had so many things that I am ALL ABOUT.  Shiny costumes!  Floor writhing!  Prince mugging for the camera! Pimp suits! Men in heels! Good stuff!   Next thing I know,  I'm trying to convince my friends that we should go to a midnight showing of Purple Rain at the Music Box.  Then, I caved and bought a cheap blu-ray copy of the movie off of Amazon (heeeeey $10).  In between all of these things, I listened to the Purple Rain soundtrack enough to boost Prince into the circle of most played artists on my iTunes.

 Purple Rain is catching.  It's like a virus.  You watch it and, even though it's no great cinematic feat, you're into it.  Then, you get addicted.  You can't shake these songs.  It takes up some weird nostalgia pocket of your brain even though you were not yet born when the film was in theaters and just watched it for the first time like two weeks ago.  Suddenly, you want to dance.  You want to dance like Prince.  You think that your cousin's wedding would be so much better if the dance floor were opened with "Let's Go Crazy", then revise that to believe that all weddings would be so much better if they began with "Let's Go Crazy".  You think that what Rock Band has been missing (though you haven't played Rock Band in months) is Prince.  You look up music videos of Prince to relearn his entire career with this new interest that you have and you're disappointed to learn that youtube's Prince offerings have all been "altered" to comply with copyright regulations.  His "I Wanna Be Your Lover" Camille falsetto is even higher than it already was, but that's ok, because "Batdance" mesmerizes you as a precursor to Daft Punk's "Around the World" video.  "Batdance" is obviously the one thing that could have made The Dark Knight even better.  It's a bad scene, but, like Purple Rain itself, it's the badness that makes it the best ever.

There's no point in summarizing, but Purple Rain stars Prince as a rather quiet, Puckish singer named The Kid.  Prince was 26 at the time, and we get the sense The Kid is supposed to be a little younger still.  No, it's not just because they call him The Kid.  He's new to the game, still figuring things out.  Right now, The Kid is dealing with some stuff.  He lives at home with his mother and his abusive, drunkard father.  He's at risk of getting his regular act taken from him. He's got an ego the size of the Twin Cities.  He's pissing off his band (The Revolution, duh). He's making critical errors when it comes to being in a relationship with a woman.  He's so cool that he tells a lady to strip down and jump in a lake and she does.  All of these things add to the pure, over-the-top melodrama of Purple Rain.  Between the musical numbers (and believe me, the songs are like concert footage so good they make the film an instant classic) we are given an unceasing parade of Prince stares, soap opera theatrics, and complete absurdity.  Part of what makes these scenes palatable is, of course, the presence of Prince.  It's in his face.  Even when things are bad, he can't seem to shake the weird, deer in the headlights smirk that makes you know it's all an irrelevant joke.  Purple Rain is pure artifice; one huge, poorly connected string of music videos that's ultimately a big set up for a killer soundtrack.  What this movie did was cement Prince as legend.  It is the ultimate showcase for an insanely talented artist in his prime.  Oh yes, it is a vanity project.  You watch the dancing, acrobatics, and show-offiness he delivers the songs with and you know Purple Rain was designed as a time capsule.

It's insane, and honestly, anyone who can make the viewer completely forget how totally inane and drippy the rest of the plot is deserves accolades.  After writing, just a few hours ago, about how much I didn't like the one song musical that was That Thing You Do!, I can tell you flat out that I (obviously) rather loved, and was pretty impressed with Purple Rain.  This is how you do it, Tom Hanks, this is how you shoot a film about the rise of a musician: you use a real, legit musician.  Purple Rain = serious win. 

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