Revisiting Purple Rain’s Original Reviews


Should you see Purple Rain? Yes. The answer is yes. Of course, that’s the perspective from someone living in a world that has already been influenced by three decades of Purple Rain‘s greatness. It’s a film recognized by all non-jive turkeys as an absolutely beautiful marriage between modern music and the moving image. But while most movie-goers today “get it,” at the time of the film’s release there were plenty of critics who clearly hadn’t been purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. In the spirit of the film turning 30 this year, and its screening last night at Tarrytown Music House, we take a look back at the reviews of Purple Rain upon its 1984 release.

See also: Elvis Costello, D’Angelo, Chris Rock Pay Tribute to Prince — Carnegie Hall — 3/7/13

Pauline Kael , The New Yorker

“It’s not difficult to see the attraction that the picture has for adolescents: Prince’s songs are a cry for the free expression of sexual energy, and his suffering is a super-charged version of what made James Dean the idol of young moviegoers — this Kid is ‘Hurting.’ And this picture knows no restraint… Prince is in charge and he knows how he wants to appear — like Dionysus crossed with a convent girl on her first bender. It’s pretty terrible (there are no real scenes — just flashy, fractured rock moments), but those willing to accept Prince as a sexual messiah aren’t likely to mind.”

Cynthia Kirk, Variety

“Pic captures the essence of the current music scene, and the colorful Prince persona, very well indeed… Known for his sexually graphic musical imagery, most of Prince’s songs in this film are relatively tame by his standards-and while the film is R-rated, nudity and language are only briefly vivid. Violence, including the suicide scene, is totally blood-free, a bit unrealistically so in the case of the suicide. Concert sequences, by Prince, The Time, Apollonia 6 and Dex Dickerson, are splendidly realized musicvid-type affairs, awash in purple-hued smoky lighting atmosphere and right-on camera work.”

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

“The film is like East of Eden replayed as a hyperbolic rock fever dream. There are a few sour, juvenile moments, but this is the rare pop movie that works the way a great rock & roll song does: It tells a simple, almost elemental tale and uses the music to set it aflame. Prince magnetizes the camera with The Stare — a rivetingly narcissistic, come-hither gaze that’s equal parts genetics, attitude, and eyeliner. A-”

David Sterritt, The Christian Science Monitor

“The pop-music star Prince makes his movie debut in this bizarre drama about a rock singer with a troubled career and a miserable home life. Directed by Albert Magnoli as if he were shooting ”Mourning Becomes Electra” for MTV. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, violence, and a nasty attitude toward women.)”

Vincent Canby, New York Times

Purple Rain, which introduces Prince, the rising young rock performer, to theatrical films, is probably the flashiest album cover ever to be released as a movie. However, like many album covers, Purple Rain, though sometimes arresting to look at, is a cardboard come-on to the record it contains… With his mass of carefully tended, black curly locks and his large, dark doe eyes, he looks, in repose, like a poster of Liza Minnelli on which someone has lightly smudged a mustache. When astride his large motorcycle, as he is from time to time, the image suggests one of Jim Henson’s special effects from a Muppets movie: Kermit the Frog on a Harley Davidson… Mr. Magnoli, whose first theatrical film this is, has seen to it that the movie is so efficiently edited that the story ends sometime before the movie does.”

Leonard Maltin

“Prince’s film debut is about a young Minneapolis black who struggles to gain acceptance for his own brand of futuristic (and sexy) rock music… but it’s not autobiographical.  Right.  Dynamic concert sequences are undercut by soppy storyline and sexist, unappealing characters–especially Prince’s. 2 and a half stars”

Roger Ebert, “Siskel and Ebert At The Movies”

Purple Rain has an interesting solution to the problem of trying to combine a dramatic story with a lot of musical footage. Long passages in the movie are almost wall to wall music and then there are brief, sharp, highly emotional dramatic scenes, in which the drama is condensed into intense emotional exchanges. The result is one of the best combinations I’ve seen of music and drama. This is the first movie they’ve made together, Prince and Apollonia come across with really exciting romantic chemistry. I like the movie. I thought it was the best rock film since Pink Floyd’s The Wall… Apollonia Kotero, I’m only a human being. Can I be human for a second? I thought she was electrifying. I thought their scenes together were the most erotic love scenes that I’ve seen in a movie in a long time… It’s one of the best combinations I’ve seen of rock music and dramatic information.”

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