by Benjamin Leonard
Best Boy at Moviejawn
I missed out on Prince's first film for many reasons. The number one reason being that I listened to rock-n-roll. This Prince guy, he played dancey smoochy songs that girls liked. The number two reason was, I was seven when this movie was released. There was no way in hell my parents were letting me watch this. Twenty-two years later, I've learned that dancey smoochy stuff that girls like can be good, and that my parents were totally right to keep me away from this movie.
I need to get this part out of the way first: Prince is a really good songwriter. It's still not always my style, but I respect his talent.
Watching Purple Rain, I couldn't help but be reminded of Elvis's films. The main points were to show off his looks, his sound and most importantly his STYLE. The story comes in WAY behind all of that, for sure. Unlike Elvis, Prince's story has a little bit of a social conscience. Purple Rain is the story of a young musician that grew up watching his mother be abused by his father. He hates his father for this, but sees some of the traits in himself and the people he associates with.
Unfortunately, the movie plays off some of this abuse as comedy (Morris Day having a woman thrown in a dumpster). The focus is on how hard it is for a young man to grow up in this situation and how this abuse makes the woman feel is ignored. In the end the right choices are made, but this is definitely a story about a man, told by a man. Women are secondary (or tertiary to the music).
Otherwise, the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's basically an entire industry in this town set up around a battle of the bands at a bar. Everyone has awesome clothes, cars and instruments. How can they afford this stuff only playing a few songs every night?
The songs are good musically, but do nothing for the story. The only song that really has much to do with the story is the titular Purple Rain. The two women in Prince's band want him to try out one of their songs. He spends the entire movie refusing, but by the end, he's become a "better person" and decides to give it a shot at the spur of the moment on stage. In one of the most realistic scenes in the film, Prince feels like Mr. Awesome after playing Purple Rain and decides to give one of the ladies a kiss on the cheek. She looks at him like the asshole he's been all movie and rolls her eyes at him.
Women only exist in Purple Rain to look at, to laugh at or to screw. Apollonia's band perform dressed as strippers and even have guys waving dollar bills at them. These issues are exactly what my parents would never have wanted me to enjoy.
My final determination on this film is that it was made almost entirely to fit a teen boy's fantasies, but that hardly any probably watched it when it came out. I don't really feel like I missed out on anything here and I probably grew up being a better person without it.
THE PURPLE PRINCE’S POSTSCRIPT
I wrote the above review of Purple Rain about a week before Prince’s death. I didn’t want to scrap my writing just because of his death. However, I feel it does require a bit of a clarification.
Throughout Prince’s career, he worked hard to include women in his creative process and support female artists in general. In 2013 Prince contacted 18 year old Dani Leigh out of the blue to choreograph and direct his video for Breakfast Can Wait. She had never attempted to contact him previously. Prince just saw something in this young woman and went out of his way to help support her talents. He continued to keep in contact with her for the last few years and regularly reached out to her to assist and comment on her own work.
This alternate view of Prince is what makes the treatment of women in Purple Rain so disappointing. Sadly, much of the world will remember Prince as The (self-absorbed, domineering) Kid in the movie, and not as the man that worked diligently to support other artist’s creations. In his life, he was a true role model and it is sad that many people will cling on to the memory of abusive jerk portrayed in the film.