My Purple Rain commentary

Heh, I’m sure between my fellow phunk solider and I, we’d be able to put together a helluva commentary for this movie based on the fact we’d seen it so many times.
And also because we hit it off on the Paisely Radio broadcast on the same grounds, discussing the movie, the music and the phenomenon of it all.
Perhaps someday, that could be a possibility. Between the two of us, we could probably give Al Magnoli, Bob Cavallo and Donald Thorin a run for their money (those who don’t know, they did the actual commentary for Purple Rain as the director, producer and directory of photography).

Sure, one would ask the question why someone in charge of the whole look at the movie is part of the commentary. I have just the answer.
Those who know Prince’s music knows that a great deal of the experience is visual and its just as part of it as the audial part of it. I.E. the musical component.

Ask anyone on the set about why there are depictions of faces and masks all over The Kid’s basement and why the lighting and stage vary for The Revolution & The Time … he’s the one who’s going to have the answer for that. I don’t know much about what a director of photography does, but seriously, you need a guy who knows what he’s doing if you’re going to make the performances at a club look like a concert.

I made the ill-advised decision last night (ill-advised as in, I didn’t have anything better to do) to watch the film again last night, fully intending to use what I watched for this blog that I’d already started and titled before pressing play.

As my previous blog shows, I got up a little early yesterday morning, so naturally I’m a bit tired. And also something I’ve tried to avoid, having a soda in the later hours of the night because the caffeine doesn’t keep me awake, I have a sugar crash within an hour.
Its not because I’d seen the movie perhaps dozens of times in the past 3 years, but my yawning was to keep me awake.

One thing I had noticed, though, and is something I’ll take into account with the rest of my notes here. Every single stage performance has its own choreography, different movements for each song. Naturally I’m moving to each of the songs differently to go with the music. A little mimcry goes a long way, but when there’s a guitar involved, I like to follow the movements from one side of the neck to the other by jerking my head. Strange as it sounds. I have the whole screen in front of me, but I will literally use my head to follow Prince’s movements, whatever they might be, all over the stage so I won’t be missing anything.

I suppose that work out can burn out some calories, but on the other hand, it just feels right. So if its a little strange, call it a nervous twitch. Unless someone is watching, I ain’t gonna stop.

It was a little interesting at first when I was watching this and had this notepad in front of me. Actually, its a giant spiral notebook with at least a couple hundred pages that I’d had for ages. And I have all kinds of crap in it. It started as my third “purple notebook” where I write album reviews and such, but then I started writing other stuff in here with no purple relevence.
It took me a couple minutes before I could willingly start taking little notes here and there. Strangely enough, it got me thinking about Neal Karlan (sorry if that’s spelled wrong) the Rolling Stone writer who penned the article “Prince Talks” in 1985. According to him on the “Prince of Paisely Park” documentary, he approached him after a rehearsal at the old warehouse in Minneapolis where The Revolution used to rehearse (not practice, rehearse, as Prince would say).

Prince took him to his dad’s 1967 Thunderbird, his car at the time and behind the wheel, Prince was leaning over the steering wheel, muttering in a karate master/Mr. Miyagi sort of voice “I’m not going to do this, I don’t want to do this again”… something along those lines. Apparently, he didn’t want Neal to have recording devices, pens or paper out while this was going on.

Now this isn’t to say I haven’t taken notes on a work in progress before. I’ve listened to a couple of Prince’s albums and in hopes of getting a fresh angle out of things, I type notes on Word throughout my listen. Now, taking notes on albums and quoting Prince by hand are two different matters.

A lot of the time, though, preferrably, I do not readily take notes while I have something Prince related in progress. I mean, who takes notes during movies? Apparently I just did.

But I got self-conscious about it, strangely enough. Usually how this works is that I will mentally take notes of the things that stood out either between a particular movie or a particular album or song and I’ll write them down later, directly after the fact if possible.
What tends to happen, though, is that I’ll start with something that I mentally took notes on. When I get to writing something down, I will go beyond my notes automatically. Like what I did with that trip I did of The Gold Experience a month ago. I had notes written down and I go beyond what I’d written because by that time, I’d already drawn other conclusions.

When I write, I feel like I understand more and more why simply releasing one album a year wasn’t enough for Prince. After working on something for so long, he’s moved on to something else, written other songs about other subjects and wants that to get out asap.
Between me and Prince, I wouldn’t have a problem with multiple albums to fit his need to release and write. I doubt several of his loyal supporters wouldn’t mind. But any record company in charge of distribution probably would. It may show favoritism and really doesn’t make for good business for other artists. Who can compete with Prince’s output?

Supposedly, according to something I saw recently, either on VH1’s greatest artist countdown or that list of 100 greatest Beatles songs of all time that made ABC’s World News, the Beatles are noted for having written the most music of any artist within a 10 year period…

Immediately, I found myself objecting to that… those who know Prince as those on prince.org do, he has written 1000’s of songs over his lifetime that are now stacking up in his vault(s). Given the fact he wrote 100 songs for the Purple Rain project with 3 of them being newer creations to fill “plot holes”… I’m left to believe in the 80’s, Prince far supassed what the Beatles are credited for doing. Not all of that music was released to the public, but he and God know that a lot of music exists.
Now I’m wondering if that includes his protege material as well, the songs that went to Vanity/Apollonia 6, The Time and Sheila E.

Now I lost my train of thought from earlier.

So what happened on that trip with Prince, Neal said that to make things easier, Prince drove and took him for a personal tour of Minneapolis. Meanwhile, they talked about the sport teams and the snow and why you can’t get good [fill in the blank, I can’t remember what it was] in Minnaepolis. Little by little, Prince threw in personal ancedotes. Like the McDonalds where he and his friends would go just to smell the food when they didn’t have money and the phone booth where Prince begged his dad to let him back in the house after he was thrown out for messing around with girls.

It’s no secret Prince is complicated. I’m sure whoever came up with the phrase “he’s a tough nut to crack” had someone like Prince in mind when they coined it. He plays by only his rules, so naturally, if you’re going to interview him or talk to him, you have to do things his way to get what you want. Of course in this day and age, there probably are dozens of things that you’ll want him to come clean about that he’ll refuse to go into.

It’s not a nut, but I could probably say that in this scenario, Prince is a coconut. Or better yet, a diamond. You’ll need something/someone as tough as he is to get the answers you seek. I wouldn’t recommend it, of course. You gotta earn his trust with time and only then will he willingly come clean about what he allows himself to talk about.

In that instance, you would think that Prince was a born-again Christian like Denise Matthews instead of a Jehovah’s Witness.

So ultimately, I was feeling a little of that heat too. I didn’t want to take notes because its against my character to do so. And also because its not necessarily what I do with something Prince related.

I got to thinking before starting the movie last night that even though I’m starting to get my fill of the movie again, I don’t want to watch it with commentary because I just about have it memorized. What would the point be?
Haha, I guess that proves I’ve seen it way too much times, but of course, I couldn’t help myself. Ask me to go through the movie and point out in each scene what the guys were talking about and I’m sure I’ll get it right.

So here it goes:

One of the first things I was thinking about when the movie started: what would it have been like if Vanity hadn’t walked out? What if Vanity had the lead female part? How would the movie differ?

First of all, the difference would be huge. I hadn’t seen either movie, but I’m sure it would give Purple Rain the feel of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Pulp Fiction… any strange movie, particularly with Tarantino directing.

Prince called Vanity as such because it was like looking at himself in the mirror. Therein would be the problem. Vanity’s character could have been just as dark as Prince’s. Her character’s desire to become a star and get her break brought her to the Minneapolis club First Avenue. Meaning she doesn’t quite have the experience yet and is new to the business, not necessarily having the confidence yet to completely succeed.
Vanity would have carried an air of more confidence and that would have eliminated a factor that helped drive the movie.

Innocence

Straight off the bat, I’m certain of one thing. Patricia Kototero is a sweetheart and I can only assume Prince called her Apollonia to give her the image of being a goddess of music, much like Apollo who was god of many things, including music. It also alludes to her ability to light up the stage (Apollo’s being a sun god).

In fact, make that, innocence and naviety.
Somene who truly hadn’t been on scene before has no idea what she’s getting into at first. Most would probably agree, assuming you’re with Apollonia so far as Vanity’s replacement, the only thing she fails on is the performance of “Sex Shooter.”

Let’s be real for a second. Vanity didn’t have an excellent voice either, although in some instances (Take me with U), Apollonia comes off as tone-deaf in parts. When I mean failing, I mean the whole look of the group. I don’t think that Apollonia is quite suited for the whole lingerie/camisole look that Vanity 6 was known for and somehow, Vanity just looked better with Brenda and Susan. The three looked like they were in the same boat and had a better chemistry. Although some of this may be due to the fact that we know that Apollonia was a last minute stand-in to fill a role.

During that scene, the guys behind the mic seemed to be getting into it and confessed while filming that they had their minds on making the movie and because the cameras back then didn’t allow you to see what you were filming, they weren’t so much paying attention to the women. All of whom, they confessed, looked amazing and the response of the audience let them know that as well.

I don’t know what it is, but I like the song, even though it did earn Prince his first Razzy award.

In behind the scenes, Al Magnoli said that several girls showed up for the countrywide search dressed up in Vanity 6 apparel, but Patricia showed up in sweats. The personality was what they fell in love with and much to the delight of members of the male audience, she had a hot body to go with it, although not necessarily suited for langerie the way Vanity was.

Obviously from my spelling, you can tell I don’t own any and really don’t care much for it. I’d prefer sweats over that in a heartbeat.

Something else the guys got a kick out of was having the short scene where Morris is seen vacuuming his bachelor pad before the show. It was like something they had to have in there because it was hilarious to see.
As was what he did in the alley for Apollonia before The Kid runs him over with the motorcycle. Offset, Al Magnoli saw him do it and said right away “we gotta have that in the movie.”

One thing you tend to notice throughout any of the performance numbers that didn’t feature Prince, there was some sort of distraction that takes you away from the act. During “Jungle Love,” The Kid comes out and catches Apollonia’s attention. The whole thing he did when he slipped behind her back and was checking her and his competition out, as well as him standing in the back of the room during “Sex Shooter” are examples of Prince in “lurk mode.” Something I think can be expected from him, I certainly did think of him as the type, especially when he disappears as Apollonia turns back around.

In reality, it was something Prince did, particularly standing the back of the room. When he had an opening act or simply wasn’t going on that night, he liked to check out the competition from the back of the room and in a way, it allowed him to be invisible.

I’m sure anyone who saw the movie will agree that “Jungle Love” sounds 100% better here than it does on The Time album “Ice Cream Castle”… because they did it live. Makes me wonder how many takes it took them to get this right. Right away, you see something very accessible about Morris Day. He brings his own charm to the seet and I don’t know, even though his dance moves are relatively the same in most of his videos, he has a way of inviting you into his world. Then of course, Prince comes around, doing his whole “lurk mode” bit and taking attention away from his competition.

When Jill asks Apollonia if she has any experince, I got to thinking about the little fact that she was one of the few people on set that had acted before. The Kid’s parents were the only professional, seasoned actors and in fact, everyone else came on set to watch any of Clarence’s scenes because he was just that good. Prince certainly responded to him well, both as an actor and a person. Certain scenes taken out of his actual biography were of great importance to get right and for the script being as juiced up as it was with the domestic violence, ain’t nothing but brilliance there. Once or twice, it naturally moved Prince to tears. When Clarence says “I would die 4 U” and “never get married” those were things Prince’s dad had said at one point or another. Something else they noted was when the camera moved down after Father’s Song was played, the movement in Clarence’s hands wasn’t scripted, but somehow it just worked out that they were moving the way they were, nervously twitching, alluding to committed crimes.

Patricia had done a couple of b-movies before this gig, so not seasoned, but she had a little experience acting. Certainly more than any of the members of the Revolution. One scene in particular had Al Magnoli worried about Billy Sparks’s ability to carry a huge part of the script. He was a concert promoter for Detroit and hadn’t acted before. But needless to say, Prince and Al Magnoli helped him through it and in the end, the scene where Billy says “I’ve got three acts, I don’t need 4” turned out well.

Ultimately the musicians would be playing themselves and these roles would let them really put themselves out there and shine. To my knowledge, Morris and Jerome were the only two that had the tiniest shred of success in acting because of this.

At first, the guys were talking about how Jerome was great with details. Every little gesture he made brought something about him to the set. Then the scene where he gives The Kid tickets to the show the following night, that helped land him a role in Under the Cherry Moon. We wouldn’t have had the pleasure of being with Tricky had it not been for Morris Day and the fact they simply couldn’t find him that morning. Morris was supposed to tell The Kid that he didn’t have what it takes, but Jerome stepped in because Morris was MIA.

And as I had posted ages back, Morris Day landed a few roles because of this, although most of them were TV shows that didn’t get through an entire season before getting canned. The only characters he can play are ones very similar to him. A sarcastic, charming, smooth lady’s man. It was noted during his conversation with Apollonia at the club that his “yeasss” has been parodied by several people.
Myself included, its part of my everyday vocabulary. Its like a nervous tick I can’t get rid of.

Some things that are hard to get out of my head are when the guys revealed that certain scenes were filmed in LA instead of Minneapolis. Mainly because it was wintertime and not much could be done with gasoline freezing and the snow.
It’s a very convincing example of editing, though I think I’m having an easier time believing the back and forth at the lake when in reality, Prince was in Minneapolis and Apollonia was in LA. I have it written down from some other source that the scene at the lake where Apollonia jumps into the water was filmed on November 1, 1983 where it was 68-69° outside. Two days later, the temperature plummeted to 20°. Its noted in some goof on some website that Prince is wearing different clothes on the motorcycle in the close-up scenes and the scene filmed from the helicoptor.

Needless to say, there was a little continuity error on that part. The helicoptor footage where you hear the song “Take me with U” is the first set of shots that Al Magnoli filmed aside from all of the musical performances. Every performance had 4-5 cameras, were filmed twice and it took 10 days to finish them all.

Al Magnoli was impressed by the fact that he only had to tell Prince where the cameras were and he knew exactly where to go when he was making up the choreography for each song. Purple Rain in particular was impressive because he shot the scene twice, but the first several minutes of it were from the same take. Little by little as the song progresses, bits and pieces from both takes were put together into the final product.

Little details here and there, the three men disclosed during the commentary. Al Magnoli had only done films for USC during his college career, one of them was called “Jazz.” The scene where Prince returns home after the Let’s Go Crazy/Jungle Love arc, he filmed that using a dolly grip, something he hadn’t used before. Then he did the best he could to get the entire white cloud guitar in the lens before the scene cuts away to “Take me with U.”
Having the song was a good move on his and Prince’s part because he and several others will agree that is probably some of the most boring stock footage there is and it starts to run too long after a while.

Something I can never help but wonder is whether the Minnetonka scene was Prince’s idea of a joke. Did he come up with that himself? And if so, had he used it on girls before? I’m sure all of his female fans are dying to know that one.
After seeing that happen a couple times in several shows and movies, its hard to see where some of these things are going.
Also, I wonder if all of the focus on the faces in the basement was something of Prince’s creation or the art director. Is that how Andre Cymone’s basement looked when he was bunking out there back in the day?

Speaking of the basement, there’s that sex scene, which aside from the foul language, is the sole reason the movie got the certain rating. Word is that a couple seconds were cut out of it so the movie didn’t earn an X-rating. Although, for all we know, it could be that barn scene that we see in the When Doves Cry montage, but never quite explained. Inquiring minds probably want to know about that more than anything else.

Naturally, there’s a lot of talk about When Doves Cry during the montage. How the idea came about, how Prince penned it in less than 24 hours, how they fought to keep it as was for the movie and also that it was released 10 weeks before the film’s release and made a hit single.

The one song I wish had gotten more commentary for it was Computer Blue. There’s no mention of the longer version being cut down during the segment we hear during The Revolution’s rehearsal or during the actual performance. All they talked about was the 4-5 cameras and the fact Wendy was a little uncomfortable with her part in the number. Heck, a young girl like that fresh out of high school, who wouldn’t be intimidated by it?

There also isn’t any mention to Dez Dickseron’s short performance. It would have been nice.

One scene I found interesting that night was the little fight Prince and Wendy had following that. It’s no secret Prince has had discretions with members of his band for years. Gayle Chapman and Dez left because the content of Prince’s music conflicted with their beliefs (ironic!) and Andre Cymone left because he didn’t think he was getting the credit for certain things he brought to the scene. Supposedly “Uptown” was his creation and he got no credit for it and he had also written the bass line for “Do me baby.” Perhaps one of Prince’s more brilliant bass lines.

I got to thinking: had nobody really challenged him before Wendy came? Granted, he was at Wendy & Lisa’s throats constantly, but their unity caused a little bit of friction. Had that friction always existed in the band in some form or was Wendy particularly unhappy and the only one brave enough to challenge Prince over creative input?

Now, everyone is playing themselves in the movie, but you never know with these things how much is true.
Bobby Z comes off as someone very honest, tells it like it is, but doesn’t seem to want to pick a fight. Dr. Fink seems to be the type who wants to keep the peace. As one of Prince’s closer friends, that makes him out to be the appeaser of the group.
Then we have Brown Mark who has no lines at all. Did we just figure not to give him lines or was it because he was the type to keep out of these conflicts altogether?

Interestingly, Bobby Z worked with Wendy & Lisa after The Revolution was finished and it seemed that he wanted out and had enough of Prince at this point.

Dr. Fink stayed with Prince until after the Lovesexy tour (I double-checked to be sure he didn’t have input on the Batman album, lol, always gotta double-check the facts).

I’m hazy on Brown Mark post-Revolution, whether or not he wanted out after a while or he had left just because Prince broke up the group. I only know that he formed the band Mazarati and Prince wanted to help them by giving them “Kiss.” Brown Mark didn’t like the song at all and to his relief, Prince took it back after he decided to work with it a bit.

Perhaps there is some truth to all this.

Another thing Al Magnoli dreamed of doing as soon as he got the job for directing the movie was the shot where Prince comes down the fire escape. It really is an iconic scene.

Naturally some other facts and tidbits were thrown in throughout the movie. One of the guys took note of Prince’s gloves and one day, one of them was actually wearing the glove, messing around a bit. Prince noticed and had a good laugh.
Something else I just have to mention: a couple people on prince.org noticed how Prince had a bag of Doritos in one scene and it got me wondering how many people bought Doritos after seeing the movie.
Because Prince likes Doritos, lol. We don’t know that for sure, of course.

The way I absorb information about my favorite things, particularly in pop culture, its natural that I’d know the commentary as well as I do. Therefore, I could definitely build on it if given the opportunity. Even if I’ve done this as many times as I have.

 

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