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Purple Rain revisited: the making of an icon

By Cateto

A review of the movie in its 30th anniversary

With all the initial noise -which for whatever reason seems to have vanished- made about the agreement between Warner Brothers and Prince to release a remastered edition of his album Purple Rain, I thought these days would be great to watch attentively the movie. And this week, a day alone at home proved to be the perfect opportunity.

Since I became a hardcore fan of Prince back in 1988 -while watching live the broadcast of the Lovesexy Dortmund show-, I joined Princeland four years after the theatrical release of the movie. And believe it or not, I had never watched Purple Rain in full: I had been browsing different parts (let’s admit that the beauty of Apollonia and the performances were my main focus), but never spent 1 h 51 min to see the full movie.

So this was kind of a premiere to me (a double premiere if we take into account that you can very seldom enjoy two hours of quietness in silence and loneliness at my home, and please don’t take this as a complaint!). And I approached it with a sense of curiosity: what would remain of its charm, after 30 years? Would it look aged or boring? Do a few stunning songs justify a full length movie in theaters? What role did it play in the creation of the Prince myth? Would the figure of Prince be the same without this movie, with only the record being released?

I don’t have answers for all questions, but I think the watching session provided quite a few significant replies.

If I had to summarize in a sentence my main feelings after watching Purple Rain, it would be that is is a -maybe unintended- clear portrait of a superstar in the making. Of course I know this was made as a promotional item for Prince, and it ouststandly succeeds in that role. But my point is that, looking at Prince performing onstage, or to the scenes related to the plot, I can’t avoid to perceive how huge were his ambitions and his expectations at the time. It simply transcends the screen, in a manner which maybe was not pursued by Magnoli or Prince. They surely wanted to convey the idea that Prince was a big music star; yet I’m not sure they wanted to transmit the tremendous effort he was doing to convince everyone that he was actually a big star. Regardless, both messages come across, and looking back with the perspective of three decades, it’s refreshing to see the hardworker Prince, who was probably unaware of the legendary status he was about to reach in just a few years.

The design of the movie is pretty straightforward, but highly effective: knowing well the tremendous capabilities of Prince and the Revolutiononstage, most of the time is devoted to show them (and the other purple bands) doing their job. And the simplistic plot drawn around the performances does work in providing a storyline to keep the public’s interest, but only to get them glued to the main ingredient of this recipe: the music. The truly magnificent music Prince and his musicians were creating at the time. However, I was quite surprised by the rather credible interpretations -it’s true there are no complicated roles to act in the movie, but still, even the comic aspects of the interaction between Apollonia and the macho Morris Day are nicely deployed and do not seem ridiculous.

And the flow of music in the movie is perfectly crafted to hold your interest, in a crescendo that starts already very high: Let’s go crazy, with Prince’s dark profile on front of the illuminated stage. It is the first icon in an endless list of images for the legend: the purple suit, frilly shirt and round glasses -look at the illustration above from the master Reverend: it’s pure Purple Rainessence-, Prince lying on the ground at the end of The beautiful ones, the purple motorcycle with Apollonia -where, icon on top of icon, you will see one of the incarnations of the 0(+> symbol-, the cloud guitar as a gift, the nude torso of Prince wearing a mask (and appropiately playing sex on top of the piano at the end of Darling Nikki)… Prince is an artist prone to creating icons, but he never managed to create so many as in this movie.

The Kid is in rare form tonight

The different performances reach the pinnacle with an overwhelming version of Purple rain, after the suicide attempt of the father figure. Would you believe it made me cry, once more, despite the countless renditions I have heard in the last decades?? The figure of Prince playing guitar at the end, while the crowd waving their arms, has been repeated at pretty much every Prince show for years and years. But still I get shivers, every time. This is one of those few eternal songs, those which are immune to the passing of time.

Purple Rain revisited: the making of an icon-Housequake
Purple Rain Movie

One would expect that Purple rain would be, logically, the last song in the movie. But no: there was too much, too good material to end in a slow song. I am not sure it makes sense in the plot, but afterwards you have I would die 4 Uand, finally, the song that encloses the core message of Purple RainBaby I’m a star.

And it is precisely in Baby I’m star where you see and hear, with sheer pleasure, the genius musician displaying all of his talents onstage: the one with no competitors, the performer captivating the crowd as we have seen him so many, so many, so many times along his career. It was a brave statement from the musician who would command modern music for many years. And once the film ends, you have no doubts: that kid was in rare form, and that form was there to stay for very long.

Going back to my initial questions, I think Purple Rain keeps intact all of its charm. You’ll have a smile from time to time looking at the suits people are wearing during the shows and so on, but you don’t feel embarrassed at all by watching this from the perspective of 2014, and certainly it has aged extremely well, taking into account the very daunting aesthetics of the movie.

Purple rain embodied the essence of a superstar in the making, only to realize that the superstar was already made. And it served to provide a bold imagery which would accompany Prince forever, besides putting him at the forefront of media for many months. It was one of the most successful promotional campaigns in music in the 80s, but more importantly, it helped define a whole world in music, whose longevity and impact has proved to be astonishing.

It would be very difficult to imagine the career of Prince without Purple Rain, but if we try to do it, I think it would be closely linked to Sign O the Times/Lovesexy, because of the wide exposure of those albums/tours. While both were done at the very peak of Prince (and Sign O the times will forever remain my absolute favourite), they lack, in my opinion, the potential provided by Purple Rain (both in music and in images) to create a lasting myth. In any case, this is just speculation, although it serves to highlight the importance of Purple Rain.

PS A curiosity of mine: the guy announcing, at 30´ 7″, “Hey Kid, five minutes”, is one of the Leeds brothers, or are my eyes failing?

And another curiosity: in a film where many characters use their real names, and The Revolution also their use real name, why Prince is called The Kid?

— Cateto
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About the author


I am a Spanish guy who was always a music lover (despite having no music playback device at home when I was a kid). I became a crazy Prince fan in 1987, straight after listening to "If I was your girlfriend" for the first time, on "Rock 3" (a radio show). For years I knew nobody sharing my love for Prince music. Then internet came to rescue me: I discovered the Prince Mailing List, then other resources. And finally in early 2004 I found Housequake, which became my home in Princeland. I have closely followed Prince career since 1987, and written some articles focused on his music.


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