Purple Rain is one of the top ten albums of all time. Most days I’d call it the single best. The debate can continue on the other nine, but that tenth slot needs to stay open for Purple Rain. Prince’s magnum opus has got a unique, singular vision behind it, a vision so intense that it actually laid claim to an entire color of the rainbow. It’s rock, it’s pop, it’s prog, it’s soul, it’s gospel, it’s rhythm & blues, it’s anticipation, it’s release, it’s horniness, it’s gratification, it’s very definitely the greatest strip club record of all time. Considering how many singles I doled out in my twenties while “The Beautiful Ones” was playing, the United States Treasury ought to put Prince on the dollar bill. As I have told all seventeen of my unborn sons: Wait until “Purple Rain” (the song) comes on to buy the lapdance. That’s just being thrifty.
Meanwhile, PURPLE RAIN, the movie, probably isn’t on anybody’s top five MOVIES of all time, but it’s a significant viewing experience. Albert Magnoli is due more credit than posterity has yet granted him for shepherding this project all the way from Prince’s brain to the silver screen. PURPLE RAIN, as visually pretty and as crisply-edited as it is, is far from simply a long-form music video. It’s a real-deal movie musical, one of the few great ones of the last four decades. It smartly solidified Prince’s myth, cementing him in the popular mindset as a genius songwriter and a mysterious romantic presence. It still sounds incredible, and the songs aren’t even the only highlight. PURPLE RAIN sports the legitimate hilarity of the Purple One’s real-life high-school bandmate and onscreen arch-foe Morris Day, the sublime beauteosity of Appolonia Kotero, the glaring scariness of Clarence Williams III, yes of course the for-sure greatest soundtrack of all time (its only competition is THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY), and a truly and wonderfully bizarre and bizarrely self-revelatory performance by Prince. which may or may not have anything to do with his actual inner life or personal history. We may never know. Prince didn’t talk too much about that kind of thing.
Prince was a really important figure in American popular culture. We live in a country that’s really weird about religion, a country that’s even weirder about sex. Prince achieved victory in life by out-weirding everyone on both counts. But his weirdness wasn’t a pose — he really meant it. He was a man of faith, and he was a man of earthly pleasure, and he was sincere. His religious identity was equally as vital to him as his sexual self. I can’t think of any artist whose lyrics spoke as much about God as they did about explicit fucking. [Here’s a book that speaks really clearly on the subject.] America tends to make religion and sex an either/or proposition: Prince’s revolution was conflating the two. PURPLE RAIN, the movie, the song, the album, all are titillating, all have the cumultative effect of a religious revival. What else is the song “Purple Rain” for, besides taking us all to sex church? In Prince’s world, sexiness was next to godliness — amidst his prodigious musical output and his vast pan-racial, pan-cultural, pan-sexual influence, that is his truest legacy, and it’s a purple torch that should and must be carried on, long past his physical death.
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