The news of Prince’s passing at the all-too tragic age of 57 was a hard thing to hear for the world, mostly due to his prolific career as a musician, guitar player, and singer/songwriter.
Similar to David Bowie, Prince had roles in film as well, but his time on the big screen was short, with only four feature length films he is credited on as an actor, all released between 1984 and 1990.
The first and most iconic of these is surely Purple Rain. It ended up winning the last Oscar award for Best Original Song Score that was ever given out, and it remains a standout example of musical/rock opera movies of all time.
I went back to rewatch it to recall some of the great moments for Prince and the amazing, mid-80s-ness of it all.
It’s a musical after all, so it stands to reason that the music will be the big highlight of the movie. However, you lose out on some of the focus on other parts of normal movies, like, you know, dialogue. As a result, there are these great sequences where music is dominating the scene while the actors are hanging out. It’s awkward, a little creepy, and now, hilarious.
The front-man (maybe slash pimp?) Morris, played by Morris Day, truly steals the spotlight when he’s on camera. His braggadocio, his style, his voice, his dancing, all of it comes together to create this larger-than-life slimeball of a musician. While the character of Morris is mostly an asshole, there’s no denying that Morris Day and the Time come together to make some fantastic music in this movie, and even prompting questions about Prince’s Purple Rain coming away as the winner in the final “battle of the bands” pitted against the Time’s song the Bird.
The round, mirror-surfaced shades make frequent appearances, sometimes at odd times, including indoors. It’s hard to tell what the point is or if there’s a pattern to when they are on, and I have a feeling they’re mostly to offer a way for the camera to catch a reflection in them. Granted, it becomes a little overused, but you can’t deny the cool factor.
Morris and Jerome’s “Who’s on first?” Routine
This comes completely out of left field, and it’s amazing. Morris and his butler/man-servant Jerome are trying to work out a secret password to let Morris know when Apollonia enters the club so that Morris can talk to her while avoiding his other female “associates” and making them jealous. It’s a great after-thought kind of a scene, does nothing for the story, but makes the movie that much better.
The Purple Rain soundtrack didn’t sell 25 million albums worldwide for no reason. The dance-y, pop/rock ballads fill in any gaps that might be lacking in story structure, coming at the frequency of a musical. Prince’s voice and showmanship are so captivating, it’s clear how Prince earned his reputation as one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. Morris Day and the Time also share some of the spotlight and provide a great musical counterpunch to Prince and the Revolution.
Whoever designed all these outfits deserves a medal, and I’m surprised the movie wasn’t nominated for the Best Costume Design category that year. From the purple tunics to the velour suits, everyone is dressed to the nines in Purple Rain, and it makes for a perfect visual compliment to the bold, funky music going on around it.
Breaking the Cycle
The real drama of the movie happens in the Kid’s (Prince’s character) home and personal life. With an abusive father he has to pull off of his mother multiple times, we see the Kid falling into a cycle of violence as he takes out his anger on Apollonia. After a montage of these outbursts, then catching Apollonia about to drive away with Morris, he finally stops himself and ends the cycle. Although much of this movie dates itself with the 80s cliches and filmmaking style, this nod to the cyclic nature of domestic violence still feels very real and impactful.
The fact that Prince was only 26 when this movie was released is truly astounding. His dramatic acting has gravitas, his musical performing is amazing, and overall, the movie treats us to all sides of Prince’s talent. It’s a true tragedy that he only made it through life another 30 years after this movie released, but we can at least be grateful Purple Rain exists as a memorial to his legendary status as an entertainer.
He will be missed.