Monday, April 25, 2016

Raise your hand if you rewatched Purple Rain this weekend

I did.

Here are some thoughts:

- Moments after I commented to my wife that "Let's Go Crazy" was the exact studio version of the song, the song went off on an unexpected mid-song tangent jam that I did not remember -- or like. It goes on for like four minutes. My next words to her were, "Boy, I sure am glad this is not the real version of this song." (Though that does beg the question -- is the "real" version the one on the album, or the one in the movie?)

- I loved the moment where [that girl] hands the Kid a tape of the song Wendy and Lisa wrote, which will eventually become "Purple Rain." It's a dark, indoor scene. For no reason whatsoever, the Kid puts his sunglasses on to receive the tape.

- Did Prince really do the ventriloquism in that scene where he has the puppet reject Wendy and Lisa? The internet says no, it's just ADR, which certainly makes sense. Ventriloquism works like gangbusters on stage, when the person is 20 feet or more away. But when you shoot someone in a movie doing ventriloquism, and they are less than five feet from the camera, you are going to see some telltale mouth movements if the person is legitimately doing the ventriloquism. There weren't any in this scene.

- The first time Morris Day walked on screen, I remembered what a hissable villain I always found him to be in this movie. I wonder if Day at the time (pun intended) realized he was just going to serve as Prince's foil in this movie, just the Washington Generals to his Harlem Globetrotters. I doubt Morris Day and the Time would have had a Prince-like career anyway, but this movie might certainly have played a role in short-circuiting that.

- I had forgotten about the little Abbott & Costello routine between Day and his sidekick Jerome regarding what password they're going to choose to get Day's attention when Apollonia arrives at the club. It's "what," but it takes them a long time to determine that, and Day still doesn't successfully recognize it when it comes up later on. It's actually a reasonably clever exchange, in terms of sheer linguistics and wordplay.

- Speaking of Apollonia, her bedroom eyes still slay me just as much as they slayed Morris and the Kid.

- It's interesting that both "Computer Blue" and especially "Darling Nikki" are presented as "bad songs" in the context of the movie. They are played back to back in a scene where the Kid is hitting rock bottom, and "Darling Nikki" is obviously overly personal and self-indulgent (I'm sure "the boss," Billy, didn't dig on songs that talked openly about masturbation in his club -- he tells Morris earlier that he wants a girl group who are sexy, but not dirty). But "Computer Blue" just seems like a good song. Why all the head shaking and concerned looks in the audience?

- I was surprised at how much of a performance Prince actually gives in this movie. I had remembered him just strutting around, posing and making Derek Zoolander faces, though of course I wouldn't have been able to characterize them as such at the time. But no, there's not as much posturing in this movie as I remembered, and Prince actually undercuts the sense of cool I always thought he was working so hard on by the fact that he lives with his parents. He's pretty subtle in most of his scenes, and rarely is that just under-acting.

- I thought it was an interesting choice to have "Purple Rain" unfold without Apollonia at all. I kept waiting for the moment when she'd appear in the crowd and be overcome by the power of the song, just like Billy and the rest of the audience. But it never came. Only later do you realize she did see it, when he encounters her backstage and her face is streaked with tears. At first I wasn't sure what I thought of this choice, because it robs us of that moment when you can see her entranced by the song. But then I decided I liked it. The performance of that song is not about winning her back, but just about doing the best work he can, and finally recognizing the contributions of the talented songwriters hiding in plain sight in his own band. He has that moment of reaching the goals of his narrative arc, and reaps the benefits with Apollonia after the fact, as it should be.

- In the old days I used to wish that this movie ended with "Purple Rain," but on this viewing I recognized how short-sighted that desire was. I remember feeling the tedium of having both "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm a Star" following the movie's emotional climax, but now I understand that the Kid needs to prove his revived marketability with more than just one mind-blowing ballad. Billy wants a draw in his club, something that has enough of the type of fun brought by Morris Day and the Time, which his audience obviously craves. These closing two songs prove the Kid can do that as well, and they end the film with a kind of cathartic exaltation.

- And hey, even Morris Day is getting into it! Aw.

- My biggest disappointment about watching this movie came after I finished it, and it was pointed directly at myself. When adding Purple Rain to my Letterboxd list of rewatches, I noted that the star rating I'd given it just three years ago was 2.5. Only 2.5 stars? So this viewing taught me that Purple Rain is not just a guilty pleasure for me, but a movie whose every scene actually works for me on some level. It doesn't have a bunch of embarrassing moments you have to giggle through -- in fact, it doesn't really have any. (That funny montage of new wave faces in the opening scene and the closing freeze frame of Prince's face are the closest it comes.) I may be looking at this movie through rose-tinted -- or purple-tinted -- glasses in the wake of Prince's death. But I really don't think so. That 2.5 stars should be at least 3.5, and possibly as many as 4.

After our Stan streaming service finished the credits for Purple Rain, it offered us some related films, including Graffiti Bridge (which I've seen) and Under the Cherry Moon (which I haven't). And though I've been listening to a bunch of Prince over the past few days and am in full-on Prince appreciation mode, I don't think I'll watch Under the Cherry Moon, a Golden Raspberry award winner for worst picture and worst director (Prince himself) in 1986. Not just now, anyway.

I like my purple-tinted glasses just as they are, only seeing the good in this departed genius.


Wendell Ottley said...

Great revisit. As many times as I've seen it, let me see if I can answer a couple of the questions you have.

Morris Day and The Time were a Prince creation in reality. He even wrote much of their material. If you know anything about Prince created acts, none of them had any real staying power, though The Time lasted longer than the rest. I think their villainy actually helped them because it made them more visible. There was even talk of a multi picture deal for Morris and Jerome.

I've never looked at the Computer Blue/Darling Nikki as presented as bad songs, just wholly self indulgent ones that the clientele didn't really understand. For CB, there's really long section of Prince and his bandmates amusing themselves with their guitars. DN is pretty self explanatory. That's always why I thought there was "head shaking and concerned looks."

Lastly, I'll only say that Under the Cherry Moon is far better than Graffiti Bridge which is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

Derek Armstrong said...

Ah, I suspected as much with Morris Day. That's something I would have known at the time but forgotten in the years since.

Okay, you've convinced me! I'll watch Under the Cherry Moon. Agreed on GB.