Purple Rain Review
Since the coming of sound it has become common-place for the musical stars of their day to make the leap onto the big screen, usually playing an approximation of themselves. Of course, with so many performers doing this the results are uneven; for every good film (The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, say) there are dozens of poorer movies (Mariah Carey’s Glitter, Barbra Streisand’s A Star is Born, etc., etc.). So where does Prince, one of the Eighties biggest icons, stand with his first cinematic effort, Purple Rain?
Firstly, and this goes without saying, the film is intended primarily to show Prince in performance. The plot which hangs off this backbone is rather inconsequential: “The Kid” (Prince), singer and composer for group The Revolution, struggles with love, his ego, rival band Morris Day and The Time (who also appeared in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) and his father, who’s prone to a little domestic violence. Plus, his band might lose their residency at the Third Avenue nightclub if they don’t resolve their problems and pull in the crowd.
With this being Prince at his peak, the musical numbers are fantastic and a joy to watch, though it’s a shame that he couldn’t transfer his stage magnetism onto the screen. As the role is partly autobiographical, you wouldn’t expect it to be that demanding, yet Prince struggles with simplest lines and gestures. Of course, there is still a trace of charisma there, though when the film skips from song to dramatic scene to song, etc. the contrast becomes evident in the extreme. Luckily, the writers have decided to make the dramatic element take up a lesser percentage of the screen time than the musical numbers, so we get more of the Prince we love than the one we almost laugh at (witness the scenes when he faces up to his father, calling him a “motherfucker” in the squeakiest voice and looking about half his on-screen parent’s size).
In fact, much of the film is humorous for all the wrong reasons: Morris Day acts like a pre-cursor to Martin Lawrence, so over the top you can’t help but enjoy his efforts; the attempts at comedy are so laboured, the sheer effort the performers put into the childish gags manages to a raise a smile; and Apollonia Kotero, as the love interest, is so bad she’s good.
Yet all the film’s flaws seem irrelevant in the presence of the mighty soundtrack. Winner of an Oscar and a Grammy, the songs here rank among Prince’s finest; and when ‘Purple Rain’, ‘Darling Nikki’ et al are being performed within the film, rather than providing background, the film just simply can’t lose. Of course, if you’re not a Prince fan then there’s nothing to convert the non-believers, but for those who are, this film offers its rewards.
Picture and Sound
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is generally fine in well-lit scenes, though has difficulty during the darker moments and with the soft lighting used for the stage performances (in particular, ‘Darling Nikki’ which is bathed in red light and will have you squinting at points). Whilst it’s never unwatchable (and I would presume that some of the problems are to do with the original cinematography), one would hope a film less than twenty years old would offer a little more.
Likewise, the sound works wonders at points and is remarkably flat at others. The songs themselves come off fine with a good spread over the 5.1 mix, though the dialogue is generally restricted to the front central speaker and often inaudible.
Given Prince’s long-running spat with Warner Bros. I would presume the star is as resistant to offering a contribution to this DVD as Woody Allen is to his film. As a result, this is a bare-bones release, though I expect this is as good as it will ever get.
Not a great film, and certainly not a great disc, but considering that Warner Bros. are now reducing the prices of their earlier DVD releases, this disc is a bargain for the fans.