Published: Friday, July 27, 1984
'PURPLE RAIN' HAS NON--STOP DRIVE
Is "Purple Rain" a movie, or is it a concert on film?
It's both -- but whatever you choose to call it, it's solid entertainment.
Starring Prince, new music's funkiest star, the movie has music as loaded with energy as a sky full of lightning Prince and photography that stays right in the middle of whatever's going on at the moment. The movie itself has non-stop drive.
Set mostly in a nightclub, "Rain" has a plot that disappears like a loon into a Canadian lake, surfacing only when the music dictates. The Kid (Prince) wants to be the hottest musician around; so does his show-biz rival Morris (Morris Day). They vie for the affections of Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), a luscious singer-dancer.
THE FACT that nearly all the characters in "Purple Rain" use their real names says something; these characters are, in many instances, simply playing themselves. Billy Sparks, the hefty fellow wearing the Detroit Tigers baseball cap, is indeed Billy Sparks, Prince's Detroit-based road manager; Apollonia Kotero really does head the singing group called Apollonia 6.
So it is not surprising that the best of "Purple Rain" is when the dialogue stays short and sweet and the camera closes in to see what's going on with whom. Credit for that goes to Albert Magnoli, the film's 30-year-old writer, director and editor (in his major film debut), and to cinematographer Donald Thorin, whose credits include "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Against All Odds."
And because Magnoli is willing to suggest ideas and then allow Thorin and the audience to flesh out those ideas, "Rain" acquires a mysterious quality that's more than a little appealing.
PRINCE'S KID, full of sweetness and pent-up rage, commands "Rain." With a voice ranging from ethereal falsetto to blatantly sexual, he radiates an innocent "Who? Me?" grin just as he makes a move that reeks of unadorned sex. When the Kid is on an onstage roll, he's as quick and deadly with his guitar as a salesman hustling Veg-O-Matic's cut/dice/slice capabilities.
The other star of "Rain" -- he almost steals the show -- is Morris Day, lead singer of the Time, as a preening gent short on morals and long on gold brocade. In a "Who's on first" routine, he's at his good-buddy best; but when he stops by the Kid's dressing room just long enough to one-line "How's the family?" after tragedy has struck, he's demonic.
Clarence Williams III, last seen in television's "Mod Squad," is masterful as the Kid's father. With almost no lines, Williams creates a broken, desperately unhappy man out of a character it would be easy to simply despise.
PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, July 31, 1984
THE FLAMBOYANT PRINCE OF POP
By JONATHAN TAKIFF, Daily News Pop Music Writer
As anyone with ears and a radio ought to know, Prince is the biggest and best thing going in pop today - master of a multi-format, mulatto music that's artistically satisfying, sexually stimulating, and culturally savvy.
Flamboyant to excess, Prince is visually impossible to ignore, too. The man is wickedly pretty, with a taste for androgynous apparel and lewd body English that's swashbuckling and kinky at the same time - a cross between Little Richard and Billy Idol.
Both rock and rhythm & blues fans can claim his high-strung guitar and "nervous" rhythm sounds as their own. Prince's lyric imagery is quite imaginative, sensitive and lusty. His musical colorations are mod-exotic, lavish with strings and electronic processing.
Versatile on a dozen instruments, this 24-year-old wunderkind produces his records and seems to possess boundless energy. Building on his own "Minneapolis-sound," he has successfully developed a coterie of kindred musical spirits - The Time and Vanity 6 (now Appolonia 6) being the best known.
And now, with his debut in "Purple Rain," Prince proves his commanding presence and artistic vision can cut it in feature-length films, as well.
Inspired by the MTV music video revolution, the music and dramatic plot are treated as equal partners in this cinematic saga - a semi-autobiographical show-biz yarn. Powerful performance footage both opens and closes the film. Prince's original score - second-best-selling album in the nation this week, which contains the number one single, "When Doves Cry" - effectively comments on every dramatic turn of events.
The shot-from-the-hip camera angles, smoky atmospheric lighting and rapid- fire, cut-to-the-beat editing employed by directing newcomer Albert Magnoli are likewise drawn from music video motifs.
Filmed in Minneapolis, the cast consists mostly of real musicians, a gutsy gamble that paid off with a set of natural and effective performances. Prince's sidekicks in The Revolution all portray themselves - while he is referred to only as "The Kid." Prince's arch rival in the picture is Morris Day, self-aggrandizing leader of the (recently disbanded) group The Time. Day proves hysterically funny in love and war, and I wouldn't be surprised if he builds a good acting career out of this film. Prince's love interest in the picture, another singer-on-the-make, is Apollonia Kotero, a lovely Hispanic/ American who now fronts Prince's scantily clad all-femme group, Apollonia 6.
The tale is a familiar one - of a young man who uses music to escape from his sordid home life. Clarence Williams 3rd, of "Mod Squad" fame, plays The Kid's mentally disturbed, alcoholic brute of a father, who alternately beats up his wife (Greek actress Olga Karlatos) and mellows out playing jazz piano. (In real life, Prince is the son of an Italian/Black jazz band leader. His mother was the vocalist with the band.)
The father's madness infects The Kid as well, turning him inward, dampening his career progress and souring his relationships with women. But a cataclysmic family tragedy turns him around, just in the nick of nicks, motivating Prince to rescue Apollonia from his scuzzy rival and to put on the performance of his life. Whew!
While reportedly shot on a shoe-string budget, "Purple Rain" looks like a major epic in comparison with music films like "Breakin"' or "Beat Street." It is also quantum leaps ahead of its rivals in musical quality. And the picture delivers a much closer view of the reclusive Prince than he's allowed before. "Purple Rain" is certainly the music picture - and record album - of the summer, perhaps of the entire year.
Parental Guide: Rated R for snippets of off-color language, brief nudity and a few sexual gestures. The score is actually tame by Prince's standard, and the violence is blood-free.
Published: Friday, July 27, 1984
'PURPLE RAIN': VIDEO MAKES A PRINCELY POINT
The rock musician Prince, who has been reinventing funk for a while now, is something of an adult antidote to Michael Jackson. his music frequently wanders out to the edges of established pop, in search of "fusion" with other styles, in a way meant to challenge his audience; he seems more likely than Jackson to be remembered for changing music as opposed to becoming famous.
Although Prince is also a dramatically sensual performer, and despite -- perhaps because of -- his interest in innovation, he has yet to achieve Jacksonian status. Now that Prince has a film, however, that could change.
the film Purple Rain is that takes "music video" the step further, to feature length and, more importantly, to a feature- sized theme. The first half of Purple Rain is much influenced by the peculiar rhythms and angles and cuts of run-of-the-mill MTV, but it also seems to be about something. It is telling a story that, while hardly surprising, offers conflict and struggle, resolution and redemption, which makes it unto the average music video roughly what Proust is to Rod McKuen.
And when the movie turns to its climax, it does so with a long concert sequence that is electrifying; you have to go back to The Last Waltz to find rock telling a story quite this well.
Prince plays a struggling musician referred to as "The Kid" who is much concerned with making it "on his own terms," a bit of business that seems to translate into an excuse for being insufferable (and failing in the bargain). His stage work is increasingly self-indulgent, he is losing his audience, and the goofball leader of a rival band is about to maneuver him out of his booking in the town's hot club.
The movie then provides a rationale for The Kid's troubles, in time-honored rock-saga fashion: His home life is miserable, his macho pose has been shaken by the arrival of Apollonia, a lovely young singer, and his pride is taking a beating.
Remarkably, director Albert Magnoli is able to use a single moment of melodrama to give this story a measure of depth. And from that point on, Purple Rain is improbably successful at tugging on the heartstrings as well as shaking the rafters. It winds up a love story, and one with power.
Two performances stand out, with that by Prince foremost.
As The Kid's foil, Morris Day -- the preening, ludicrously dedicated womanizer of the rival band, The Time --is wonderful comic relief.
And the movie -- made in Minneapolis, not SoHo -- has a splendid sense of the style and look of modern pop.
This is the first rock film in memory in which shots of the audience are actually informative, occasionally entertaining. Of course, this is still a rock film. It's meant to be played loud, and during the climactic version of the title song we give thanks for four-channel Dolby sound. Those who have an aversion to pop music are not likely to be converted by Purple Rain, but for the rest of us, new to Prince or old fans, the film has its moments of revelation.
Purple Rain (R) ***