Death Wish 3 (1985)

Hilarious trash – one of the best bad movies ever made!

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Paul Kersey is back! Charles Bronson is back! Michael Winner is back! Golan and Globus are back!

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Three films into the Death Wish series, and Michael Winner has finally succeeded in creating an entirely fantastic world of magic unrealism, avant-garde logic and outrageous madness. Nothing here resembles reality. Of course the first film remains the best, but nothing else in the series matches Death Wish 3 for sheer hilarity. It is so far beyond mere rubbish, occupying a realm of wonderful badness that makes it one of the all-time best worst films. After this, Winner bailed on the series and it became just another shit low-rent franchise, but for one glorious moment, everything clicked. Unlike the leering grotesqurie of the second film, which took the grimly effective horror of the first film and ramped it up to hideously exploitative levels, Death Wish 3 is so silly, so funny and so over the top that it doesn’t leave that same nasty taste in the mouth that #2 did. Oh, of course there’s an obligatory rape scene (why, Winner, why?) but luckily it’s over before we know it and everything else is just flat-out, unrelentingly, wonderfully awful.

Well, I say everything else…. I’ll be honest, the first hour or so is decidedly patchy – there are lots of amazingly awful moments, but lots of bits that are just dull. Let me pick out the best bits of the first two thirds before we concentrate properly on the unparalleled, extended brilliance of the final twenty minutes. The first hour or so is essentially just a random mish-mash of scenes depicting the anarchy of the tenements, Kersey taking out the odd bad guy and chief criminal Fraker getting more and more infuriated with the whole thing.

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The opening beating/murder of Charley, Paul’s old war buddy. Obviously I don’t condone violence towards the elderly, or anyone for that matter, but the line ‘It’s collection time…CHARLEY! Collection…TIME!’ is the first indication that this film’s going to be something special. Plus, like Jeff Goldblum and Laurence Fishburne before him, we get to see poor Alex Winter become the third actor in a row to tarnish his early CV with a misguided appearance in a grimy vigilante exploitation flick. He’s one of a few hilariously camp looking ‘gang members’ in this opening, one of whom is The Giggler –  more of him later. By the way, this scene follows an opening credit sequence that boasts the most horrible jazz funk bollox music score imaginable. The credits say that the music was composed by Jimmy Page. Yes, that genius from Led Zeppelin. A lot of the music is simply recycled from the second one, including Page’s awesome ‘growling’ theme, which as I mentioned in my old review of DW2, was the only legitimately excellent thing in that film.

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More violence towards the elderly, this time merely hinted at – when total wrong ‘un Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy, son of The Old Man from RoboCop!) is prevented from killing Kersey in prison during a punch-up, yet he parts with these words – ‘I’m gonna kill a little old lady, just for you. Catch it on the six o’ clock news!’ We never do get to see that all-important bulletin. Additionally, Fraker’s absolutely horrendous haircut has often been referred to as a ‘reverse Mohawk’, and it’s difficult to better that description. He later has some painted stripes on his forehead – you know, because he’s in a gang, and they’re a kind of tribe, I suppose.

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Kersey takes on two hoodlums outside the tenement. He’s a little bit narked off to begin with, his dinner having already been interrupted by the sound of them trashing a car. He goes out to see what all the fuss is about. What’s going on, he asks? With what, they respond? With the car! What does it fuckin’ look like they’re doing? They’re stealing the fuckin’ car, so get out of their fuckin’ faces! ‘BUT IT’S MY CAR!’ Kersey delightfully reveals with all the sleight of hand of a peak-form magician. The two hoodlums laugh. ‘Now you gonna die!’ one of them says. All of a sudden Kersey produces a CANNON of a gun and blows them both away. Now I’m not saying that Kersey’s racist (the film certainly isn’t – all races are capable of being scumbag criminals if the diversity of the gang are anything to go by), but he does kill the unarmed black guy before he kills the white one with the knife. Just sayin’.

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Poor Mr and Mrs. Rodriguez (the latter played by future Deanna Troi, Martina Sirtis) are just trying to get home with their shopping. But this total dickhead gang member is on their case asking for five dollars. To be fair, he does say ‘lend’, so for all intents and purposes he is going to pay them back. Still, his approach is very aggressive, especially when he shouts ‘LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS…. SUCKA!!!’, whilst winking at one of his dickhead gang member buddies. When the verbal thing doesn’t work, Mr. Rodriguez is knocked over, but just like magic, Kersey appears out of nowhere (he does this a fair bit whenever a random crime is occurring) and punches the dickhead slam in the face. Instead of taking on this 70 year old, the dickhead simply runs away. Some young lad watching the event is well impressed with this, shouting his approval and giving Kersey the thumbs up. Kersey responds in kind, and it’s here that we know that Charlie is truly down with the kids.

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After the rotten and box-ticking ugliness of the rape scene (inflicted upon poor Mrs. Rodriguez), her husband and Kersey learn of the attack over the phone, after which they head on over to the hospital. However, events have spiralled further downwards far more rapidly than anyone expected, as the doctor breaks the news that ‘Mrs. Rodriguez has expired’, which makes her sound like a bottle of milk! I know expired and death are the same kind of thing, but come ON, you do not break that kind of news with that kind of terminology. Kersey’s protestation of ‘but she only had a broken arm!’ is more icing on this spectacularly misjudged cake of a scene.

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The death of The Giggler, a thief who can outrun anyone and has a tendency to break out in fits of amusement, is a most welcome moment. Kersey acts as bait, draping a very expensive looking camera over his shoulder (and eating an ice cream for extra innocuousness), the sight of which The Giggler can’t believe. He snatches the camera and runs off, giggling, but there’s no way he can outrun Kersey’s speeding bullet, which gets him right in the back, killing him. The crowd start cheering. After which, we cut to Fraker and his gang. ‘They killed The Giggler man… THEY KILLED THE GIGGLER!’ protests a lackey. ‘They had no business doing that. None’, Fraker insists. Er, what? Was there a verbal contract going on here? Looks like the good people have crossed the line with that act, I suppose.

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Again, not a very nice scene, but utterly hilarious in the scheme of things. Kersey has just had sex (off screen, but still – bleurgh) with the token love interest (after having chicken for dinner, which Kersey likes), but in Death Wish world, this act of outrageous transgression means she’s marked for death, and what do you know, not long after she’s punched out cold at the wheel of her car, which is left to career down a hill and blow up! Kersey, like he did with his family before, looks only mildly inconvenienced by this turn of events. At least it means he can get on with the ending (his preferred kind of climax, to be fair) without distraction.

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So now we’re at the final 20 minutes, which are as gloriously awful as you could hope a closing, extended orgy of violence could be. Only Commando rivals it for sheer glee, but Commando is ultimately a much, much better film than this. Which makes this ending all the more hilarious. I think. Kersey’s woman is dead. Some of the poor tenants have been murdered. Then there’s no-bullshit police chief Shriker, played by 80’s mainstay Ed Lauter (no one does grump better than him, except Paul Gleason), who doesn’t give a shit how many bodies are wasted on the road to peace, serenity and peaceful serenity, just so long as they get there, and he’s secretly backing Kersey’s destructive vengeance mission.

So here we go: Kersey gets some serious lethal firepower (through the mail!), which includes an anti-tank/anti-personnel rocket launcher! He loads up with bullets, gets the bereaved (but strangely upbeat, considering) Mr. Rodriguez to tag along, and word of this reaches Fraker, who calls up what I suppose must be some kind of local criminal loan agency – he requests ‘more guys, as many as you can spare me’.

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Before you know it, there’s a small country’s worth of cannon fodder in town, and they’re kicking the townspeople around (quite literally – one poor sap gets a boot right on the bum), stealing their groceries (paper, not plastic), dancing on their cars, cleaning their own teeth with loaded guns (idiots)  and trashing the buildings, but Kersey wastes no time in producing a massive automatic gun and, with Rodriguez providing bullets, kills about thirty people in as many seconds! Cue much OTT death throes, which I have to give the actors proper credit for given they’ve not been given any blood squibs to work with. Look, you can clearly see there are no impact wounds – I hate this in films, it just takes you out of the film immediately. You can tell it’s just a bunch of actors camping it up, giving it their best Hamlet. Why Winner would hold back on the violence in this bit is a mystery, given that it seems to be what’s getting him off. The squibs come back later on though.

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Also, the word ‘motherfucker’ is heard a lot during these scenes – I’m sure it’s even the same vocal snippet of the word repeated over and over again. By the way, look at Rodriguez’s facial expressions compared to Kersey’s. One of them is trying to act. One of them isn’t.

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The outside carnage provides much amusement for those trapped in the tenements – one of the neighbours is delighted that someone’s taking out ‘the creeps’. Later on they watch the carnage on the telly with great amusement, as though they’re watching You’ve Been Framed or something. Former good actor Martin Balsam, who plays one of the neighbours, even yelps ‘oh boy!’ like an excited schoolboy upon witnessing one of many explosions. Some of the residents are this close to breaking out into an impromptu street party after successfully killing a bunch of bikers with one of those chains tied between two lampposts. Seriously, they start dancing!

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Before those bits though, a nearby car load of hoodlums are blasted to bits by Kersey and Rodriguez, and at last we get some much needed realism in the form of impact shots, which brings the grittiness back to proceedings and then some.

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More bad guys/target practice show up, blow up some more buildings. The carnage here is definitely depicted as fun – we don’t know these people, or these random buildings, so let’s just get off on all the chaos! Blow up that car! Blow up that shop! Smash those windows! Set that guy on fire! Okay, that last one’s not very nice, but there you go. The shaky camerawork and wonky zooms only add to the all-over-the-place approach. One in every five deaths depicted here is accompanied by a hilariously graceless rapid camera zoom, and it’s these deaths that are the best. Not to mention the deaths that send the victim through whatever window or door they’re standing in front of. Or the ones that send them off buildings or stairwells. Kersey is soon introduced in one shot with his gun protruding from around a corner, and if that isn’t the most blatant cock-metaphor in cinema history, then I haven’t seen the one that is. Kersey gets shot a few times in the gut without realising, because you know, he’s wearing a bullet proof vest! That’s how those things work – you don’t feel a thing! The police and local fire services are on the scene to try and control some of this madness, but the bad guys are everywhere – a tasteless bit follows where a woman is dragged out half naked by a bunch of scumbags just to we can get some nudity in on the scene, but thankfully this bit is cut short as Kersey shows up and blows them away. Such is the power of his gun that when he shoots one of the would-be rapists, the guy actually is sent flying forwards. Fraker’s not present at that moment though, he’s too busy having a whale of a time killing the good guys. I mean, look at that grin. It’s so oily you could fry bacon with it.

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I shouldn’t laugh at the scene that I’m about to describe but I can’t help it. An elderly couple are in their house, but they’re forced out when Fraker and Co. throw a bunch of molotov cocktails through the window, which leads to them running outside – on fire – after which Fraker kills them with a machine gun. God, that doesn’t sound funny at all, does it? I guess it’s the way you tell it, in which case Winner is a master comedian. What is definitely, no-two-ways-about -it funny are the few scenes where various hapless goons try to break into some houses and suffer the consequences. One guy falls victim to a plank with a knife in it which hits him right in the face (think an X-rated Home Alone), resulting in him falling backwards and off the stairwell (natch), and another guy gets far more than he bargained for when, after climbing in through the window, a panicked woman blasts him out of the house with a shotgun, screaming as she does so!

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More deaths, more priceless Rodriguez reactions, more appalling attempts to kill Kersey and more smashing through windows follow, and the film has hit a shit hot streak (emphasis on shit) that should have you as gleeful as one of the tenement residents. I have rarely laughed so much at people getting killed on screen. Bill from Bill and Ted gets killed when Shriker deus ex machinas his way into the scene when neither Bill or Kersey are looking. After this bit, the soundtrack goes all ‘Edge of Seventeen’/’Bootylicious’ for just a few seconds, and the film almost becomes cool. But then it doesn’t. With Rodriguez off to get some more ammo, we get a proper Wild West bit where Kersey and Shriker walk down the streets killing people left, right and centre.

The final confrontation between Kersey and Fraker turns me into The Giggler just thinking about it. First of all the music keeps going back to this silly little melody that sounds like someone tapping on a Xylophone randomly. Kersey briefly decamps to one of the flats to get some ammo, only for Fraker to sneak in through the window, but before he can do any killing, Shriker shows up and and shoots him, but not before taking a hit in the arm himself. Kersey gets a few bullets in Fraker too, for good measure. Of course, Fraker isn’t really dead, for that would be an appalling waste of celluloid for Winner, so he has him open his eyes whilst Kersey and Shriker talk shop.

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Fraker lurches up and reveals that he was wearing a protective vest (‘Bulletproof! Just like yours, asshole!’) which, like Kersey’s recent experience, seems to have not affected him in the slightest. So, Fraker has the gun, but like Shriker says, he can’t take on both of them; they’re too far apart for him to shoot them together. ‘Bet me!’, Fraker dares, moving the gun from Kersey to Shriker – there’s actually a good shot (the first and last in the film), where the camera is at Fraker’s hip and travels with the gun as it is aimed from one person to another. However, in that split second, Kersey produces THE ROCKET LAUNCHER and FUCKIN’ EXPLODES Fraker right there in the room, blowing out the wall in the process. Before his death, Fraker gets a wonderful zoom right into his horrified face, an expression that should be burned into the retinas of all self-respecting cineastes. It’s something (well, it’s exactly) like this.

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Oddly, when Fraker’s girlfriend sees the explosion, she screams – it’s as though she just knows he’s been killed, even though there was no way for her to know this. But fuck it, she knows somehow. With him dead, the gang admit defeat in an instant, doing a pouty retreat that’s so mannered it’s almost like a music video. With that, Kersey plans to walk the earth once more until Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, which wasn’t directed by Winner and is therefore a Loser in the franchise. There is a funny bit in that film where a table full of crooks blow up but before they do they are quickly replaced with a bunch of distinctly un-human looking dummies that linger just a little too long on screen for us to believe that the characters really died. If you can believe it, the guy on the left is meant to represent Danny Trejo.

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Films I Love: Ran (1985)

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Akira Kurosawa’s last big film did not see him fizzle out, or go gently into that good night. It is an absolutely remarkable epic, based on Shakespeare’s King Lear and transferred to 16th century Japan, which remains one of the all-time great adaptations, one of the best cinematic spectacles and…well, I’ll say it, one of the BEST FILMS EVER. It is an epic of high drama, betrayal, revenge, family, madness, death, war and regret. The title means ‘chaos’, and although there is an inciting incident that bring about chaos, the world that these characters occupy was already mired in it – it was just simmering, waiting to explode. When the film is not mired in violence, silence and stillness are integral. While not exactly Ozu, Ran’s verbal dramatics are staged in a manner that whilst betraying their stage inspiration, nevertheless make full use of the beautiful Japanese countryside.

The Great Lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) oversees the lands he has conquered, but he realises he’s getting older and older, so he decides to pass on his spoils to his three sons – Taro, Jiro and Saburo. The former two are falsely obsequious and garland their father with patronising compliments and promises, but Saburo knows all too well that the peace that he imagines will prevail under the rule of his sons is just a fantasy, and essentially shows up Hidetora for the old fool he is, which doesn’t go down at all well. Proud and refusing to accept Saburo’s cruel-to-be-kind hostility, he banishes his youngest and commences his retirement.

Almost instantly, the true nature of his other two sons are revealed, and the peace of the land is overthrown by civil war. Hidetora becomes haunted by the brutality of his past, be it through his own dreams or by his encounters with those whose lives he has ruined. Of chief interest in the chaos of the plot is Lady Kaeda, whose own family was butchered by Hidetora many years back – she is married to Hidetora’s eldest son and is using her position to further bring down her father in law’s kingdom.

Ran is a desperately sad film – despite Hidetora’s cruel past, we are asked to pity him as his past actions catch up, the cruelty of his past mirrored in the callousness of his two eldest sons. Yet the love between father and youngest son is still evident. The relationship between Hidetora and Saburo is the most heartbreaking, as obstinance and stupid pride from the former prevent them from happiness together.

The Great Lord Hidetora is a remarkable character – his face is a frieze of perpetual astonishment, anger, hurt, pride and eventually terror. The make-up effects exaggerate his performance to vivid extremes. Amazing beard, too. Because we only see him in these twilight years of his, the cruel monster he once was is only ever referred to. He has done dreadful things, killed many innocents, and his ludicrous attempt to impose order and peace (having been so brutal to get to this stage) by presuming that a split rule between his sons will actually work is a deluded one that is taken advantage by two of his offspring. There’s a jaw-dropping moment when his faithful servant Tango informs him that the local peasants have offered the wandering Great Lord charity, but in his insane pride, he sees the gesture as an insult and demands that their villages be destroyed! The presence of his Fool, who acts as a kind of running commentary on the Great Lord’s own foolishness, might try some viewers patience with his early theatricality (you might even end up siding with one of Taro’s henchmen who tries to run him through), bur his presence becomes more heartfelt as the film progresses.

Also, and this is important – the film is very funny in parts. I don’t know if this was intentional, mind you. Hidetora is such a larger-than-life character, and his pent-up, emotional, expressive rage borders on comic. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all, by the way. His face is the definition of theatrical drama. You can’t take your eyes off him. He says so much without speaking, especially during the raid on his castle where he silently falls into madness as his room is destroyed around him.

The Lady Kaeda character, who could have been a mere ‘evil woman’ type bad girl, is ruthless and chillingly focused, but her motives are undertandable, her revenge almost justified, if ultimately misguided and horribly loaded with collateral damage. Yes, her ‘womanness’ is criticised, but by who? A man whose maleness has contributed nothing but war. She could almost be the film’s hero if she wasn’t so bloody scary – her seduction/blackmail of Hidetora’s son is astonishingly visceral.

However, although sadness is the overwhelming emotion driving the film, Ran is justly lauded for the scope of its action. Maybe because battle scenes are ten-a-penny these days, but the sheer ambition and scope of Ran’s biggest set-pieces might not stand out for some viewers. Well, they should. This is real, non-CGI, proper large-scale stuff. The midway battle is a masterpiece of sound and vision. All diegetic sound is removed – instead there is the grand, but funereal, tragic music score to accompany all the chaos, destruction and bloodshed. Despite the ‘12’ certificate, the violence is bloody and shocking, although the vivid red pallete of the gore is far from realistic, closer to an impressionist’s brush strokes. The film’s most swift and ruthless act of violence, performed near the end, is delivered like a painter’s final, decisive touch – it’s as spectacular as it is horrific, expertly framed and – yes, executed. Additionally, the colour scheme, specifically in regards to the colour coded armies, is simple but effective, and frankly very helpful in a battle scene.

By the end, tragedy has conquered our characters’ worlds. The culmination of all this drama is heartbreaking, if inevitable. Played out against such a desolate landscape, with the only warmth emitting from the increasingly setting sun, it is overwhelming. The gods are questioned, but are ultimately seen to not be responsible, In fact, they are believed to be weeping. And like the gods, we can only act as helpless spectactors, knowing that this isn’t going to end well, but unable to stop the horrors from unfolding. Humanity is to blame here, not the gods, not nature, just us. The skies seem so empty – is God or the gods up there? It’s a barren, bleak and even nihilistic land our characters occupy.

Ran has been recently remastered and re-released in cinemas – anyone who already loves this film needs to see it on the big screen if it’s still around. If you haven’t already seen it, then prepare yourself. The Great Lord demands it.

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Lethal Weapon (1987) Fan Audio Commentary

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It’s been a long, long time coming, but our film commentaries are back! Blame the technical difficulties, for it was their fault- happily, we’ve returned with a favourite of ours, and it’s the theatrical cut of Richard Donner’s always-tremendous Lethal Weapon. You can listen to our track for free  or download as a free mp3 via the link to the right! We recorded this whilst watching the UK Region B Blu-Ray from the Lethal Weapon Collection box set, which is the one with the newer, extended Warners logo at the start. Enjoy!

Purple Rain (1984) review – RIP Prince


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Ladies and gentlemen…the Revolution’

When we’re talking about the cinematic legacy of the late, truly great Prince, Purple Rain was the first, and will always be the best. It’s a thrilling synthesis of music and style, but get this – you will only truly love it if you’re a Prince fan. If you’re not, you might get a kick out of it as an unintentional comedy, or if you just like the whole 1980s aesthetic, which this has in abundance. Seriously, this is one of the most 1980s movies ever made. It’s a kind of musical, except that some of the songs are non-diegetic, and those that aren’t are sung from the stage at a gig, so we’re not talking about random performance outbursts. Actually, there are quite a few random performance outbursts, but they’re nothing to do with singing, and usually involve Prince throwing a tantrum.

It’s difficult to recommend Purple Rain to non-Prince acolytes – I mean, take the script, which while dramatically full of potential, is clumsily executed. The acting is very variable. Its sexual politics are dodgy to say the least. The plot is exceptionally thin. But the music. Oh God, the music. Some of the best that has ever been created, and performed. In the end, everything else is secondary. Purple Rain is not a great film, but it is a tremendous experience. Again though, only if you’re a Prince fan. You might have gathered that I am, and Purple Rain the album is one of the greatest blockbuster LPs ever, a monster-seller where every single song is immense. I’d go as far to say that of all the big, BIG, mega-selling albums that make up our cultural world, Purple Rain is the best. The absolute best.

The opening ten or so minutes of the film are so exciting it’s giddying – I remember when films in the 80s were pejoratively described as being ‘very MTV’, and you can’t get more MTV than this movie, or this opening sequence in particular. After all, given that ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ makes up for the entirety of this opening, it essentially is a music video. But it also has a big, cinematic approach – the photography, lighting, lensing, the whole shebang, all first-rate.

Fade in and we’re amongst the front row of a gig, and the band are starting. This band is Prince and the Revolution, except Prince is named The Kid here. Everyone else – Wendy Melvoin on guitar, Lisa Coleman and Dr. Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z on drums and Brown Mark on bass – are themselves. And they can play. They kick in with ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ – opening sermon and all – and the thrill and adrenaline of what it must have been like to have been at a Prince gig is up there on the big screen. This is the album and film that made Prince a phenomenon, and you can see why – he’s utterly electric. He’s a star. He has it all. I can’t take my eyes off him, but I try to, because Wendy will always be one of the coolest guitarists ever, and Brown Mark, who wisely gets away with not having to utter a single line of dialogue in the entire movie, is rocking that jacket and bass of his.

Interspersed with the live stuff, and this is where the music video feel really comes into it, is the start of the film’s ‘plot’ – new woman in town Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) runs out on her pricey cab fare and checks into a dive of a motel situated opposite where Prince is playing. She wants to make it big in the music scene. We also jump back in time to earlier in the night where the band are gearing up to play! We get quick-fire editing of the very trendy gig audience! The arrival of The Kid on his purple motorcycle! The arrival of none-more-narcissistic Morris Day, lead singer of the Revolution’s arch-rivals The Time! Almost all of this is done without any dialogue, and like a music video’s ‘plot’, it can pretty much be understood by anyone. I say totally visual – of course, there’s the music, and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ is one of those gauntlet-thrown-down album openers that pretty much defies you not to move, not to surrender to it, not to fall down to your knees and praise its rollercoaster magnificence. The version of the song playing here is the full-length one, complete with jazzy breakdown two thirds in – the shorter, more familiar one will remain the ultimate cut for me because of its brevity, but the long mix works better in the film. Whatever version of the song you’re hearing, it’ll always end in that stupendous spiral of guitars and the hammering of drums and ‘TAKE ME AWAY!!!’ and suddenly it’s all over. Wow. What an opener. Of course, the film will reach similar peaks – eight, to be precise. On an unrelated note, there are nine songs on the album.

Of course, no one was expecting Purple Rain to have a strong story – mainly because pop star films rarely do, and on that front, this doesn’t subvert that expectation. At the same time however, there is a lot going on – The Kid’s band are hot stuff, but they’re occasionally a bit too weird for the masses, unlike The Time with their straight-up, crowd-pleasing funk. Apollonia wants to make it big, but she’s torn between love for The Kid and stardom with Morris. If The Kid wasn’t such a jealous twat, there’s no reason she couldn’t have both, but there you go. Wendy and Lisa want their music to be included in the band’s repertoire, but The Kid is too controlling to allow outside influences to creep into his sound. Their demo tape by the way is an embryonic version of ‘Purple Rain’, so it’s obvious The Kid must be a stubborn bastard, because who would ignore that song? Also, The Kid’s home life is disturbed to say the least – his dreadful father regularly beats his mother over shit like not keeping the house clean. The Kid’s mum just wants to have fun, but the dad only wants her to be obedient. Suddenly I’m thinking of that awful line in The Isley Brothers’ otherwise tremendous ‘That Lady’ where Ron sings about how he would give his woman anything she wanted if only she would ‘just do what I say’. Fucking hell. Speaking of The Kid’s mum, she’s played by Olga Karlatos, who we all love and remember from Zombie Flesh Eaters where she got her eye stabbed by a protruding chunk of wood from a door.

The Kid is a bit of a dickhead, frankly. He treats his band like shit, treats his girlfriend worse. Purple Rain has been accused of sexism, it’s difficult to refute that charge – yeah, Morris is the bad guy here, but he’s pretty likable (not to mention entirely unthreatening) for an antagonist, so having him casually refer to ‘bitches’ and ‘asses wiggling’, not to mention having his lackey throw an angry woman into a dumpster leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Still, that’s nothing compared to what our Kid does – okay, the shocking bit when he hits Apollonia makes sense narratively because he’s his father’s son and all that and he’s a fucking idiot, but I’m talking about the notorious sequence earlier which involves the Kid and Apollonia on their first date, where he says he won’t help her in her career unless she ‘purifies herself in Lake Minnetonka’ – given that he says this to her directly by a lake, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was the lake in question. I mean, she shouldn’t have been stupid enough to actually jump in it, but given that she strips off before humiliating herself means this scene feels exploitative.  The film appears to side with her embarrassment, but then after all that, she kisses him on the cheek after she gets back on his bike! What the fuck?! I’m sensing a misguided ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ attitude here, and Prince was lucky Apps didn’t kill him right there and then after the way he behaved.

Prince’s shitty approach does seem to work though – later on, long after she’s walked out on him after he hit her, and directly after her first gig, she and Morris walk out to his car, both drunk as skunks, and yeah, Morris is clearly wanting to get it on, but he’s not being a threat, and Apps can definitely take care of herself – so why does she agree to get on Prince’s bike when he shows up out of nowhere (almost killing Morris) and he demands she comes with him? Then we get another bad date as Prince almost winds up smacking her again, and they part on very bad terms, but by the end of the film, he sings ‘Purple Rain’ and she’s all over him again. I mean, I’d like to think that if someone can write a song as beautiful as ‘Purple Rain’ they could get away with anything, but I don’t really mean that, you know?

Elsewhere, there’s the bit where Wendy and Lisa (in the film they’re referred to as Lisa and Wendy, which I’ll never get used to) confront The Kid about him not wanting to listen to their demo tape, after which he acts like a total dick to both of them. They storm out and Dr. Fink (not a real doctor) comes out with some dreadful shite about God reversing Wendy’s periods so that she’s only nice for one weekend every month. At least Bobby Z appears to be mortified by that ‘joke’.

Obviously, the older Purple Rain gets, the easier it is to dismiss such sexist crap and appreciate the film’s merits, of which there is much. But first, let’s concentrate on the acting, which is not as bad as you’d think – Prince is actually pretty good. He’s got the look – he’s earnest, he’s impish, and he’s got the presence. And of course, on stage, his performance is about as brilliant as you’re gonna get. However, there is some unintentionally funny stuff – we shouldn’t be laughing at that bit when The Kid storms into his house looking for his dad (who’s just hit his wife again), but it takes nerves of steel not to burst out laughing when Prince screams ‘WHERE ARE YOU?! ANSWER ME, MOTHERFUCKER!’ – yeah, calling your dad a motherfucker is weird, no two ways about it. But to top it all, straight after that Prince does a complete 360 degree spin that yeah, you could argue was done so that he could get a quick scan of the room to see where his dad was, but ultimately looks like he’s forgetting that this part of the film is not a music video.

Actually, Prince swearing, whilst not a unique thing at this stage in his career, still stands out in this film – there’s a later bit where he tells Billy the manager to ‘FUCK OFF!’ after doing a stroppy march back and forth in his dressing room which makes him look like a petulant eight year old. As for Kotero, she’s alright, but apparently the chemistry between her and Prince was not great, hence their sex scenes being trimmed for lack of fire. The band are fine! Who doesn’t love Wendy and Lisa? It’s just a few supporting turns and one-scene performers that come off as a bit wooden.

As for the intentional comedy, well we get one of those spins on the whole ‘Who’s on first?’ routines between Morris and fellow Time (and future Revolution) member Jerome Benton that were doing the rounds back in the 1940s. It might drive you crazy if you haven’t got the patience for it, but I think it works pretty well here. In fact, Morris’ flamboyant turn is one of the film’s successes. His date with Apollonia is a comic highlight, the latter being distinctly amused and unimpressed with his run of lines (‘your lips would make a lollipop too happy’, etc) – the poor sod doesn’t stand a chance when Prince comes on directly afterwards and sings ‘The Beautiful Ones’, does he?

Oh yeah, the songs – holy SHIT, they’re amazing. Even when they’re not performed live in the film, as is the case with ‘Take Me With U’ and ‘When Doves Cry’, they electrify the screen and give super-weight to the visuals. ‘Take Me With U’ accompanies the section where Prince and Apps ride towards the lake that isn’t Lake Minnetonka, and the song is such a pop joy, one of the best duets of the eighties. Great use of strings, a hell of an intro and one of those astonishingly wonderful middle-eights that just makes everything all right in the world. In fact, the two share more chemistry on record than they do in the film! ‘When Doves Cry’ accompanies a flashback montage, and it’s here that you wonder just how much of this film is autobiographical, or just how much it is fiction.

It’s the performance stuff though that really hits home – ‘The Beautiful Ones’, which is one of the most alien, stunning and gorgeous love songs EVER, is sewn into the film’s narrative by pitching Morris as the other man during the ‘do you want him or do you want me?’ finale. Now given that the love triangle between The Kid, Apollonia and Morris is pretty bloody uninteresting, it’s a miracle that this song works as well as it does in the film, but when the song’s on, I’m not thinking about any of that. It’s all about Prince on stage, and yes, it’s all about the visual impact of Apollonia crying, and it’s all about that music. It’s essentially a music video, and it all makes sense right there and then – during the song I feel for her, I feel for him and it’s all because of the song. What a song. And then it’s over and we’re back on Earth. And back to the not very interesting love triangle.

The ‘Computer Blue’/’Darling Nikki’ sequence is interesting because this is the part in the film where the Revolution is seen to be going completely off the boil – no one’s really digging the music (though this is not emphasised too much), Morris thinks it’s shit, the manager thinks its worse. The Kid is up his own arse, delving too much into his own ‘personal shit’ and it’s all going wrong. Obviously, in the real world, these songs are amazing – ‘Computer Blue’ was probably everyone’s least favourite song on the album to begin with because it goes off into a jam (although by Prince standards a very, very brief one – check the unedited 14 minute version for longer results), but come on, we all love it. The water’s warm, the grooves are funky and yes, in the film, it’s utterly electric. However, it’s definitely less of a proper ‘song’ than the other stuff on the album, so I can see why it might alienate the punters. Pearls before swine, I say. Still, this song cowers before the might of ‘Darling Nikki’, which is the one that got Tipper Gore all flustered and ‘Parental Advisory Stickers’ were born henceforth. In the film this song is delivered with what comes across as self-exorcism. It freaks everyone out, and yes, it’s directed at Apollonia, so more ‘personal shit’. ‘Darling Nikki’ is one of the all-time best Prince songs, an apocalyptic, sexy-as-fuck, overwhelming monster of a song that works amazingly well in the film, though the ‘I know the Lord is coming’ played-backwards coda is missing, I suppose because it doesn’t fit into the narrative.

The final hat trick of ‘Purple Rain’, ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and ‘Baby, I’m a Star’ is as stunning a close to the film as the beginning was. Of course, on record ‘Purple Rain’ was the ending, but here it’s the first stage of The Kid’s comeback. ‘Purple Rain’ for many other artists would be their albatross, their overwhelming success, but Prince was too damned hot back then to linger on it, the perverse about-turn of his Around the World in a Day album leaving it for dust the following year. But what a song it is. Despite being rarely compiled as such, it is probably the ultimate power ballad – huge, epic, spacious, anthemic and host to one of the most awesome guitar solos ever, plus one hell of a spine-tingling, beautiful orchestral coda. If any song was going to herald an on-stage comeback, it’s this one. The crowd love it. Even that club manager, who’s been giving nothing but shit to the Kid, clearly loves it. And unlike the crowd, we and the band especially love it because this is The Kid finally opening up and letting Wendy and Lisa into his sound, and as we all know, the Prince/Wendy/Lisa era of music making is one of the most wonderful things ever. The bit when he leans over to give Wendy a peck on the cheek is a glorious little moment. After the song finishes, he flees the stage, as anyone who just delivered the Greatest Song Ever might very well do, but the audience reaction is so positive that he’s got to go back. Even Morris loves it, even though this means The Time is most likely going to be shunted off the venue’s one available slot anytime soon, as that night was essentially a competition between the two bands. And this is where we get the double-punch of ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and ‘Baby, I’m a Star’, two utterly triumphant, wonderful tunes.

There’s other music too – notably the use of the instrumental version of B-side ‘God’ during The Kid and Apollonia’s love scene – having a piece called ‘God’ over a bit where Prince is touching his girl down there where it counts is one of many examples of Prince mixing the pleasures of the flesh and the sacredness of his spirituality. It’s a lovely piece too, seductive and sexy and it works beautifully in the film. You’ve also got a few Time tunes, of which ‘Jungle Love’ and ‘The Bird’ are awesome, the erstwhile Vanity 6 (now Apollonia 6) performing ‘Sex Shooter’ and former Revolution member Dez Dickerson (he’s the one who sings the first line in ‘1999’) with ‘Modernaire’. However, the Purple Rain album, despite being a film soundtrack, limits its songs to just the Prince ones (excluding the instrumental ‘God’), which despite seeming a little unfair, does set in stone its reputation as an all killer, no filler blockbuster. Look at the very fun but too big soundtrack to Graffiti Bridge to see what happens when everything gets thrown into the mix.

Overall the film has dated in a way that makes it quite spectacular to experience – it’s full of colour, melodrama, hilarity and those songs. Plus Prince himself. Seeing him on stage in this film is to see an absolute master – see how he inhabits his own songs, see how he moves, he sings, he screams, he dances… it’s utterly breathtaking. For all its flaws, the film was a worthy addition to the legend that Prince was in the eighties. Musically, he would continue to remain untouchable for some time, but in regards to his next few films, the legend would be tarnished somewhat. But we’ll get into that another time…

Fletch Talks: The Film Podcast April 2016

Two hours of glorious film chat to enjoy (or endure) from the two of us (that’s me and Mark) – in the firing line this month is…

  • Zootropolis
  • Ran
  • Midnight Special
  • Eye in the Sky
  • The Jungle Book
  • Miles Ahead
  • Jane Got a Gun
  • Captain America: Civil War

One of this films was predictably disappointing. One of them was unpredictably disappointing. One of them was predictably excellent. One of them is inappropriately compared to Showgirls.

You can listen or download for free via the ‘Commentaries’ link to the right – enjoy!