Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.
Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to look back at the halcyon days of 1984. A time when frills, lace, and eye shadow weren’t unheard of on men who liked New Wave. A time when the Shubert Theatre sat across from First Avenue in Minneapolis. The year 1984 was fun for another reason: it firmly established Prince on the world map with his theatrical film and soundtrack of the same name, Purple Rain.
Five albums into his career, Prince convinced Warner Brothers to finance a film that would hopefully raise him to the next level. It did: over the course of his career, he would go on to release over 30 albums. But when people think of a pinnacle, the majority pinpoint 1984 and Purple Rain. With output that ranged from funk, soul, rock, R&B, rap, jazz, and everything in between, it was the melding of rock and funk that defined the Minneapolis sound and rocketed Prince to the stratosphere.
Let’s talk about the movie, though. Prince could do many things, but he wasn’t a strong actor, and the people around him weren’t strong actors. If it were any other film, it would probably be on the dust heap—little more than the answer to a trivia question. It succeeds, however, because it’s more than the sum of its parts. The acting is almost laughable, with the only thing saving it from complete failure being the banter between Morris Day and Jerome. Line readings aside—outside of the music performances—what propels the film is the intensity that Prince brings to the screen. He radiates cool, sexy, masculine, feminine, ethereal, and down-to-earth at the same time. He is magnetic on screen. You can’t help but watch him (poor line delivery and all).
With an 111-minute run-time, almost three-quarters of the film is devoted to musical performances. Fortunately, though the music was prerecorded and the artists are lip syncing/playing, the performances still feel alive. From all of the Prince and the Revolution scenes to Morris Day and the Time, the only artist who gets short shrift is Dez Dickerson with the song “Modernaire.” But that’s okay: it’s a lesser, co-penned Prince track. However, with songs like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “Darling Nikki,” “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 You,” “Baby I’m a Star,” “When Doves Cry,” (and, at that, I’ve listed almost the entire album so I might as well finish it up) “Take Me With You,” and “Computer Blue” (I’m a big fan of “Computer Blue,” actually), this film is Prince hitting his stride. Even today, you can’t get around how much airplay these songs have gotten on the radio, at parties, on jukeboxes, etc. It’s practically a perfect album.
The Revolution and The Time knock it out of the park: Apollonia 6, not quite as much. The group is paraded on stage in lingerie and treated as little more than puppets with the song, “Sex Shooter.” Hmm, I wonder what they’re singing about. The crowd in the film goes crazy for the performance, but it has more to do with the lyrics and racy attire than the music. The song is telling us that pre-packaged sex sells, but it can’t compare to the real sex that Prince is peddling. And really, that’s the whole message of the film (and, to a certain extent, Prince’s whole career). It doesn’t matter if you don’t always get it: he’s creating his art. Take it or leave it. He’d love it if you take it, but even if you don’t, he’s fully invested in it. The plot of the movie is that Prince creates his art while learning how to play well with others. His inner demons confront his creative demons.
I go back to this film every couple of years mainly for the music bits, but the other moments can still be fun. I like when Morris and Jerome come up with a code word for Apollonia’s attempt to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. If you’re on the fence about Prince and want to see what some of the fuss is about, then this is the perfect film for that. If you’re not a fan, then Purple Rain might not fully convert you now. But in 1984, it converted a whole nation to believe in the power of purple.
This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings frequently change so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below: just keep it respectful.
If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.