Box-office Blind Spot: ‘Purple Rain’

Box-office Blind Spot is a recurring feature here on the blog wherein I finally watch a movie that, for whatever reason, I have yet to watch in my 30+ years on earth. I’ll primarily focus on the type of ‘blind spot’ films that flummox friends—you know the response: “You haven’t seen _____!? We’re watching it RIGHT NOW.”

At this point, it’s just a goddamn embarrassment that I haven’t seen Prince’s 1984 opus Purple Rain.

I’m a Minnesotan. I love Prince, who is objectively the greatest Minnesotan. Like this film, I was released in the United States in 1984.

There are many movies I have not seen that I “should have” seen: Braveheart comes immediately to mind. But I don’t give a shit about Braveheart. I know it’s odd that I haven’t seen it, but it’s not a point of embarrassment; not having seen Purple Rain, though? That could be grounds for the revocation of my Minnesota card.

Welcome to the first installment of Box-office Blind Spot. Let’s do this.


Purple Rain’s premise requires the viewer to make two logical leaps, one of which is easier to countenance than the other; let’s start with the less egregious of the two.

1. Prince is in high school (?) or at least lives at home with his parents.

Real-life Prince was a precocious motherfucker: he released his first album, For You, when he was 19 years old. At age 21, he had a platinum album. At 24, he released 1999, which went triple platinum, and had a seminal music video with “Little Red Corvette.” Dude had accomplished a lot at a young age.

In Purple Rain, Prince is known as The Kid, which I suppose is one way to signal to the viewer that he’s a youngster, an up-and-comer. But he’s also just a 26-year-old man and so clearly Prince, that the idea of him living with his parents is pretty absurd. The only thing different than The Kid and Prince is that the script dictates that the other actors not call Prince “Prince.” That’s it. He’s a goddamn rockstar.

But, The Kid’s dad is a d-bag who overindulges in the sauce and beats his wife, so perhaps The Kid wants to protect his mother. That would be a very nice gesture from The Kid.

And, let’s be real: if I had a scarf-festooned, candlelit downstairs sex bungalow like this

Screen shot 2015-03-05 at 10.18.44 AM

I’d probably still live at home.

The Kid’s residence in Mr. & Mrs. The Kid’s basement is silly, sure, and pretty odd; but he also doesn’t appear to have a real job and it’s, you know, a movie. Let’s file this under a perfectly reasonable suspension of disbelief for the sake of “art,” or whatever Purple Rain is cinematically. Which brings us to the second, much more dubious premise…

2. Prince is a no-talent hack and no one likes his music

Here’s where Purple Rain runs into trouble. I get that the movie needs a storyline, but this is some rotten storylining, screenwriters Albert Magnoli and William Blinn.

The movie opens with the wedding-day organ and sexy speechifying of “Let’s Go Crazy.” And because this is the beginning of the movie, and The Kid has yet to ascend into heaven and grow wings and become Prince, we’re meant to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” as The Kid in a rut, The Kid mid-skid. At one point, we hear Morris Day & the Time openly clown on the song.

But “Let’s Go Crazy” is irrepressibly, undeniably, straight-up fucking awesome. If that song kicked off a wedding reception, you would go apeshit. And rightfully so. And if you didn’t go apeshit, I’m not really sure why you’re even at the wedding, Derek. 

Warner Bros. released “Let’s Go Crazy” as a single on July 18, 1984, one week before Purple Rain hit theaters, and the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100. And yet, somehow, it’s supposed to be The Kid’s nadir. Does not compute. I reject the premise.

The only logical explanation for the general apathy about “Let’s Go Crazy” in Purple Rain is that First Ave. is populated by a bunch of entitled, spoiled ass-hats who need to leave and let the rest of us go listen to Prince crush it.

And if that’s true, I think The Kid should just get on his motorcycle and drive to somewhere that appreciates that he’s a golden god.

But, for the sake of getting on with it, I will cease beating this decaying, maggot-infested horse and jump in to the joys and absurdities of Purple Rain.

Screen shot 2015-03-05 at 9.38.10 AM

This, ladies and gentleman, is what Morris Day (right) looks like when he’s encountered a woman that he’s done dirty. And when Morris Day encounters a woman that he’s done dirty, Morris Day throws her in a dumpster.

The first lesson of Purple Rain is simple: MORRIS DAY DON’T PLAY. Morris Day will do whatever it takes to be one of the three main acts at a moderately sized Minneapolis venue.

Also, Morris Day has a mirror guy. Farnsworth Bentley ain’t got nothin’ on Mirror Guy.

Screen shot 2015-03-05 at 9.26.49 AM

“Somebody bring me a mirror!” has to be up there with “Sexual Chocolate!” on the Top-10 list of baller shit to say on stage. But I digress.

Point is, Morris Day is legit. I have no issue with him being the villain here, even though he and Mirror Guy do a really hacky “Who’s on First?” bit and his main villainous trait appears to be his vanity, of which The Kid/Prince isn’t exactly in short supply.

To whit:

Screen shot 2015-03-05 at 10.35.04 AM

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but that outfit/pose does not scream “humble, unassuming musician.” Prince is plenty pretty and he knows it.

But Morris Day doesn’t truly embrace his inner villain until our leading lady, Apollonia, shows up in Minneapolis with a dream and no cab fare.

Apollonia is not on LinkedIn. Apollonia has not updated her resume in a while because Apollonia does not have a resume. Apollonia sneaks into clubs and writes her name and address on a note card (Apollonia does not have a phone) and is immediately put to work as a singer and dancer and muse for both Morris Day and The Kid. Apollonia has this music game figured the fuck out.

But Apollonia, like all the women of Purple Rain, gets treated like shit. The women of Purple Rain get: hit, thrown into dumpsters, openly mocked and derided, tricked into getting half-naked and jumping into a dirty-ass body of water that is decidedly NOT Lake Minnetonka, and hit some more.

Apollonia does not deserve this. She probably doesn’t deserve to be the lead singer of a band singing “Sex Shooter” either, but that’s no reason to treat her so poorly, gentleman.

Apollonia is not the only woman who has the displeasure of being a character in Purple Rain: Wendy and Lisa, Prince’s bandmates in The Revolution, also have to tolerate the general misogyny and misbehavior of every single dude in this movie, which brings us to us another niggling aspect of the film’s plot.

Wendy and Lisa really want The Kid to hear their new song. They really like it and have been spending a lot of time working on it. They’ve even recorded it on a cassette, probably over something really rad that they’ll regret recording over. That’s dedication.

Purple Rain’s primary narrative tension, aside from The Kid’s bizarre, poorly acted love story with Apollonia, derives from this cassette. Wendy and Lisa have given The Kid the cassette but, like always, he just won’t listen to it. He’s the brains and the balls of the operation and he can’t be bothered to listen to some bullshit from Wendy and Lisa. Please.

But, once again, the quality of the music—and the viewer’s knowledge of it—totally torpedoes whatever tension the tape was supposed to create.

The album Purple Rain was released one month before the movie and was a massive hit. Moviegoers in 1984 were aware of and probably already in love with the music they were about to hear.

So when they heard a snippet of Wendy and Lisa’s cassette, they immediately recognized the song. And it’s the opening bars of “Purple Rain”—the epic, nearly nine-minute, tear-inducing culmination of the album and one of Prince’s greatest songs. It closed the Super Bowl halftime show, people.

This means that the plot of Purple Rain is predicated on the idea that The Kid is reluctant to listen to Wendy and Lisa’s crappy cassette that we all know contains a goddamn masterpiece sent from on high.

But Prince is not ready to listen to the tape and complete his masterpiece until he finds some inspiration, which can only come from his dad’s attempted suicide.

After the cops and medical workers have left his house to take care of his dad, who definitely doesn’t die because that would probably bum people out, The Kid destroys a bunch of shit—most prominently the handiwork of some poor, industrious soul who canned and jarred a bunch of vegetables or preserves or whatever.

Screen shot 2015-03-05 at 11.10.42 AM

People of Portland: do not let The Kid into your pantry.

Midway through the destruction of the aforementioned Ball jars, The Kid happens upon a bunch of hidden sheet music, which is A Thing, because The Kid’s dad very dismissively told The Kid that he don’t write music down, son. 

But it turns out he did. Because he had a soul all along? I’m not really sure. He’s insecure, or something, which I think is supposed to make us empathize with the shitty dad, but really he’s just a shitty dad. Sorry, Shitty Dad.

The discovery of the sheet music does mean that we get to finally hear Prince and The Revolution play “Purple Rain” and kinda sorta see Wendy and Lisa smile. The Kid dedicates the song to his dad, which, whatever.

I’d probably have dedicated it to my poor mother, who’s God knows where recovering from a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse and wishing that her shitty husband had actually died instead of miraculously missing his face with a gun and, who knows, maybe it was her who painstakingly canned and jarred all those vegetables and preserves so the family wouldn’t starve during the harsh Minnesota winters. (Christ, she probably doesn’t even know about the jars yet.) But I guess Dad had that sheet music.

The song (obviously) crushes, and, voila, the unappreciative philistines of First Ave. decide that they like Prince’s music after all, even though he’s been crushing it since Jump Street.

Oh, and The Kid climbs on top of a speaker and gives the crowd a money shot.

Screen shot 2015-03-05 at 11.37.06 AM

I believe this is what Bevers would call a “jazz guitar.”

Cue Apollonia and The Kid necking, cue adoring fans, cue credits. The Kids wins—and I win, because I get to stay in Minnesota. I have purified myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

Purple Rain is remarkable: it’s a Lifetime movie plus a VH1 music biopic plus a Cinemax softcore porn that somehow slays because the music is just so transcendently good that no amount of non-acting and general cinematic incompetence could spoil it.

This movie somehow grossed $80 million (in 1984 money), which is remarkable considering that I can’t believe it was even made. Purple Rain also holds a rare distinction: it both won an Oscar—for Best Original Song Score—and was nominated for two Razzies—Worst New Star for Apollonia Kotero and Worst Original Song for “Sex Shooter.”

The moral? Even after Purple Rain has finished, Apollonia is still getting hosed—and not just by a jazz guitar.

Have suggestions for future editions of Box-office Blind Spot? Post ’em in the comments. 


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