Who knew that Apollonia could demonstrate the multitude of subtle variations on the standard smile, that simple exercise of facial muscle that burdens mere mortals? Who knew that an earring could have so much symbolism? Who knew that Prince falls asleep in the exact spot where anything dramatical has just happened to him? I’ll tell you. You knew, because you’ve probably seen it. Me? I’m 20 years late to the party, but what a glorious party it is.
I’m delirious that I saw Purple Rain at 31 instead of 11. Last night, I was nostalgic enough for 1984 to enjoy the movie but smart enough to know how bad it is. Terrible acting, a ridiculous plot made worse by sloppy editing, and an oiled-up Prince aren’t a good mix. Throw in nasty fish-kissing between Prince and Apollonia and the result is cinematic disaster.
I know that a lifetime of looking at Apollonia’s many smiles is worth any obstacle, but winning her would mean listening to Apollonia 6 and having to say “That’s fantastic” without breaking into wailing sobs. That isn’t possible. Granted, without that struggle, Purple Rain wouldn’t be nearly the movie that it became, but since the writer did nothing to make a strong movie, other than letting Prince create the soundtrack, I say “so what”?
At 11 years old, I wouldn’t have known that. At 31, I can appreciate the relation it has to its era. (When did the 80’s become an era?) Knowing that the movie would be horrible made it fun to watch. As a corollary from On Becoming A Novelist, John Gardner writes about bad fiction and the writer’s response:
The kind of fiction that makes good writers cross is not really bad fiction. Most writers will occasionally glance through a comic book or a western, even a nurse novel if they find it at the doctor’s office, and finish the thing with no hard feelings. … What makes them angry is bad “good” fiction…
As bad as it is, Purple Rain is good “bad” fiction. I can revel in that when I watch in that context. Enjoying it doesn’t mean I long to imitate its dialogue or editing or that I will accept that in every movie I watch. Low-brow is better than uni-brow.
One despair remains, though. I fear I may never be able to listen to the Purple Rain soundtrack again without imagining the fictitious cinematic stories behind the songs. But I still love the 80’s in an excessive, criminal manner.