Week 24 — Minnesota
Was I dreaming?
One minute, I was dozing in my bed — the next, I was blindfolded. I tried to move, but my hands and legs were bound — duct tape, perhaps? Strong arms wrapped around me and haule me down the stairs of my home and out the front door into the cold November air. My feet touched blades of grass, dirt, and small stones as I was dragged across my front lawn and roughly tossed into the trunk of a vehicle.
We drove for what seemed like hours. I had no idea where I was — my sense of direction had long since been scrambled. Eventually, we came to a stop.
Once again, I heard the trunk open and, once again, felt a rush of cold air. Fortunately, my kidnapper had the decency to carry me this time than simply drag me.
I listened to try and get an idea of where I was. I had no luck. All I could discern was that I was brought into a building. I listened as doors opened and closed. Then, without warning, I was unceremoniously dropped onto a carpeted floor.
My blindfold was removed and I found myself face to face with a person wearing a purple cloak and mask.
“Look upon this,” the person said, whose voice was neither distinctly masculine nor feminine.
The figure pointed toward a television hooked up to a DVD player in the corner of the dark, windowless room where I was seated. The person pointed a remote control at the audio/video set-up and pressed “Play.”
On the television, I saw a man on stage playing a guitar and singing along in a semi-falsetto to an upbeat funk number.
I knew this man. I had seen him before. I knew this man, and yet, knew so little about him.
“Behold … Purple Rain,” said the figure.
My initiation into the cult of Prince had begun — and with perfect timing too, since the next state I was planning to write a column for was Minnesota. Glorious fate!
Purple Rain takes place and was filmed in the city of Minneapolis and its surrounding area. Minnesota is the “Land of 1,000 Lakes” but, as my wife reminded me, the state is not just well-known for its natural beauty but also as being home to the 16th largest major metropolitan city in the United States. A whopping 3.5 million people live in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Why are people drawn to Minneapolis, with its shitty weather and unfortunate geographic location? One major reason is that the city is a major arts capital of the Midwest. Minneapolis boasts the third largest live theatre market in the United States. It also has a major music scene. The bands Hüsker Dü and The Replacements both come from Minneapolis. While both bands have left a lasting mark on alternative rock, the city’s most successful musical progeny is — by far — The Artist — the man born Prince.
Most people know Prince’s breakthrough album, 1999. Prior to the release of that album in 1982, Prince — the son of a pianist and jazz singer — had already released three albums through Warner Bros. Warners signed Prince to a recording contract in the late 1970s based on local hype and the high-energy performances he was known for on the Minneapolis club scene.
After 1999 — and its title track — became a hit, Prince decided to branch out to acting. His first project would be a semi-autobiographical retelling of his pre-Warner Bros. years. That film would become Purple Rain.
Purple Rain stars Prince as a struggling musician. The rest of the cast features actors and actresses playing themselves, including fellow Minneapolis musician Morris Day and his band The Time.
Prince chose Albert Magnoli to write and direct the movie. Magnoli was picked because of his previous work writing and directing a short film, Jazz, an award-winning student film about three jazz musicians in Los Angeles. The script was written by Magnoli and television scriptwriter William Blinn.
Purple Rain is hard to pin down to any one genre. It’s a concert film — kind of. It’s also a drama — sorta. There’s also at least one scene of slapstick comedy and another weird bit involving Morris Day and one of his lackeys which plays out like an Abbott and Costello-style “Who’s on First?” routine. There’s a bit of romance — you know — for the ladies, as well as some gratuitous nudity for the fellas. If they had only thrown in a subplot involving a serial killer, pretty much all bases would have been covered. While there’s nothing wrong with mixing genres — some of the best films cross genres — in Purple Rain it’s all a bit much.
At least it starts off on the right beat. The movie opens up with Prince, who goes by the moniker “The Kid,” performing one of two hit songs from the film, “Let’s Go Crazy” to a club crowd. Prince is an amazing performer on stage and having him do what he does best is really the only way to open the film.
You find out that the crowd at the club where The Kid is playing is really there to see the star of the show, Morris Day and The Time. Morris and his crew perform “Jungle Love,” a song which would resurface about 25 years later in the movie Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, with Morris Day actually making an appearance and performing the song at the end of the film. The Kid is the opening act to a guy who — in mid-song — has an assistant come out with a huge mirror so he can preen while the crowd eats it up. However, Prince — er — “The Kid” doesn’t let his second stringer status get him down because he has a bitchin’ purple motorcycle.
It becomes obvious that The Kid’s far-out costumes, hair, mode of transportation, etc., are really just an escape from real life. Prince’s home life isn’t so good. His mom and dad spend an unhealthy amount of time fighting and screwing.
Making matters worse, The Kid is also having trouble with his band, The Revolution. Turns out that The Kid is a bit of a megalomaniac, which — in my research — I learned isn’t too far off from his real-life counterpart. In one scene which would become important later on, when two of his bandmates try and contribute a new song to their set-list, Prince dismisses it outright. Remember that, because it becomes important later.
While tensions mount within The Revolution, The Kid strikes up a romance with a woman named Apollonia, played by real-life singer/model Apollonia Kotero, a role which was originally intended to go to former Prince protege Vanity of the Vanity 6. Vanity 6, a girl group who performed in lingerie and which Prince had at first suggested be called “The Hookers” — had a hit song with “Nasty Girl.” When Vanity had a falling out with Prince prior to Purple Rain, the Vanity 6 became the Apollonia 6, both in real life and in the movie.
It’s pretty clear from the start that the relationship between The Kid and Apollonia will be rocky because of Prince’s dickishness. The Kid teases Apollonia pretty unmercifully and, as a reward for being a douchebag, she buys him an expensive “cloud-shaped” guitar, which looks more like sperm than a cloud to me.
Still, in spite of the “I hate you/I love you” nature of their relationship, the couple seems to be hanging in there — that is, until Apollonia tells The Kid that she’s accepted an offer to form an all-girl group managed by Morris Day. The Kid backhands Apollonia — but keeps the guitar. As further “revenge,” The Kid performs the song “Darling Nikki,” a tune about a prostitute which he dedicates to Apollonia, and nearly loses his spot in the club lineup due to its raunchy lyrics and his on-stage antics. In real life, “Darling Nikki” was the song that caused Tipper Gore to lose her mind when she caught her daughter listening to it, an incident which eventually led to those little “Parental Advisory” stickers being used to indicate when a CD contains dirty words.
The “Darling Nikki” incident doesn’t seem to faze Apollonia too much, since the Apollonia 6 still manages to come on stage and perform the raunchy “Sex Shooter” after The Kid’s outburst.
With his relationship with Apollonia gone to shit, it doesn’t take much for The Kid to reach his breaking point. This occurs when The Kid’s dad goes on a bender which ends with him shooting himself in the head, leading to a musical montage of Prince’s second big hit from the film — “When Doves Cry.”
The Kid’s dad, played by Clarence Williams III, survives. I mean … spoiler alert. The Kid’s dad survives.
Remember how The Kid blew off his bandmates’ song before? Toward the end of the film he decides to give it a chance and adapts the music into the song Purple Rain, which he performs and causes the the crowd to go batshit. The movie ends with a 20-minute rendition of the songs “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m A Star.” Roll credits. That’s a wrap.
Oh yeah, at some point Morris Day and The Time perform the song “The Bird,” complete with a flapping arm dance.
“So what did you think?” asked the cloaked figure.
“Mmph,” I managed to mutter through the duct tape on my mouth.
“Sorry,” he (or she) replied.
“I don’t get it,” I said.
My captor didn’t respond.
“I understand the impact this movie had on pop culture. MTV was still in its infancy and what passed for music videos in the early 1980s was pretty unbelievable — bad, shot-on-camcorder style video, low-budget special effects. This film and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video upped the ante in regard to production values in music videos, encouraging directors to go more in a cinematic direction with their videos,” I said.
“But, when you take away the historical significance, what’s left? Bad acting. Bad dialogue. No real story. This is not a good movie. It works in that ‘capturing a specific era in time’ sort of way, but that’s about it,” I continued.
“You want to know what Purple Rain is? It’s the story of an abusive, egotistical blame monkey who beats women, treats his friends and co-workers like shit, then plays the victim when he’s confronted and forced to atone for his boorish behavior. I respect Prince as a musician and a songwriter. He’s written some great music. He’s an amazing guitarist and singer. As a human being — if Purple Rain is really as autobiographical as it’s made out to be — he’s a prick.”
“Verily I say unto you, many great artists were assholes. What about Charles Bukowski?“
“Bukowski was an unapologetic jerk. I’ll give you that. At least he wasn’t a pretentious tool,” I said. “I liked the music in Purple Rain. I liked the singing and dancing. The narrative, however, brought this movie way down,” I said.
“Kind of like this review?“
Next Week: Mississippi! And hopefully something a little less kitschy.
Purple Rain on YouTube
Not much. Prince has sued various Web sites, including YouTube over use of his songs and likeness. As a result, much of his material is unavailable on YouTube and other file and video sharing sites.
I did find one or two clips:
Matt D.’s Top Five Modern Musicals
5. Little Shop of Horrors (1986) — Why? Because it has Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy and a talking carnivorous plant. Also, because Steve Martin plays a sadistic dentist. (Click here to add this to your Netflix instant queue!)
4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) — Why? Because it shows Tim Burton might still have some life left in him. Also, it’s probably the goriest musical I’ve ever seen.
3. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog (2008) – Why? Neil Patrick Harris! Also, that chick from The Guild. (Click here to add this to your Netflix instant queue!)
2. Forbidden Zone (1982) — Why? Because it has Danny Elfman as Satan performing “Minnie the Moocher” with the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. Also, Elfman arranged most of the music for the film, which was directed by his brother Richard.
1. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999) — Why? Because it’s so much better than it should be. Actually, it’s brilliant.
Honorable mentions: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Beauty and the Beast/The Lion King/Enchanted, Chicago, The Producers, Hairspray, Moulin Rouge!, Cannibal: The Musical