Playing a character rooted in his own background, and surrounded by the real-life members of his Minneapolis-based musical ‘family,’ rock star Prince makes an impressive feature film debut in “Purple Rain,” a rousing contemporary addition to the classic backstage musical genre.
Pic captures the essence of the current music scene, and the colorful Prince persona, very well indeed. Fans of the performer, who went triple-platinum with his last LP and is already charted with his first single from the film’s soundtrack album, will be mightily pleased. Well-shot musical sequences, doubtless intended for additional musicvid cable and TV exposure, should enhance the pic’s drawing power.
Director Albert Magnoli, making his feature bow, gets a solid, appealing performance from Prince, whose sensual, somewhat androgynous features are as riveting on film as they are on a concert stage. Supporting cast, drawn from the ranks of Prince-linked musical ensembles The Time and Vanity 6 (né Vanity), fill in the textures and cadences of the scene with convincing naturalness, and femme love interest Apollonia Kotero is a beautiful, winsome presence.
Custom-tailored vehicle for the rocker spins the familiar tale of a youngster who escapes the sordid confines of his family life through music, ultimately becoming the better man and musician through the love of a “good woman” and the inevitable, self-redeeming confrontation with “reality.”
Musical and romantic rivalry with a competing musician, played by The Time’s leader Morris Day, and “The Kid’s” (Prince) struggles with his own psyche and family pressures flesh out the story with both wit and drama.
The walls The Kid has built around himself stem from his home life, where father (Clarence Williams 3d) is an alcoholic, mentally disturbed musical burn-out who beats up his wife, Greek actress Olga Karlatos, and son in blind rages. The Kid sees his father’s madness infecting both his music and his own personal life, and he tried burying himself even deeper in his music, with negative results to both.
Father’s attempted suicide finally triggers the emotional catharsis which frees both his music and his spirit, and pic wraps with a joyous mini-concert which should have young film-goers dancing in the aisles.
Known for his sexually graphic musical imagery, most of Prince’s songs in this film are relatively tame by his standards–and while the film is R-rated, nudity and language are only briefly vivid. Violence, including the suicide scene, is totally blood-free, a bit unrealistically so in the case of the suicide.
Concert sequences, by Prince, The Time, Apollonia 6 and Dex Dickerson, are splendidly realized musicvid-type affairs, awash in purple-hued smoky lighting atmosphere and right-on camera work.
Sound mix, still to be fine-tuned this week, is very punchy.
1984: Best Original Song Score