Roger Ebert loved Purple Rain. Prince‘s other films… not so much.
“Can I be human for a second?” the late Chicago-based film critic gushed, as he praised the movie effusively on his television show At the Movies, which he co-hosted with Gene Siskel.
Ebert called it “the best rock film since Pink Floyd The Wall,” and went on to laud Prince’s co-star Apollonia Kotero, whom he described as “electrifying,” and the scenes between the two were he most “erotic love scenes that I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.”
Watch Siskel & Ebert review Purple Rain (at 8:40).
He continued: “His music is good! The photography is good! The way that they balance that fantastic stage presence with those intense little vignettes which push the story ahead, each one not too long, makes it into a really interesting movie.”
Siskel agreed, saying that the film should be “studied for the way it uses music dramatically.”
He later called it the 10th best film of 1984. Contemporary critics were not as kind: New York Times‘ Vincent Canby wrote that Prince’s debut film,”though sometimes arresting to look at, is a cardboard come-on to the record it contains.”
Later on that episode (at 26:15 above), Ebert enthused about Prince’s transition from musician to dramatic actor and predicted great things from him:
Purple Rain is a skillful, exciting, personal film. But can he play other roles? Other kinds of people? I think he can. I think he has the stuff. I thought he was very strong in the movie, his dramatic scenes, he was willing to take chances. I mean, how many big rock stars would play a character who still lives at home? And yet — it worked!
As it happened, Ebert was never again going to be so enthusiastic about Prince’s cinematic efforts. He called his 1986 follow-up Under the Cherry Moon “disastrous,” and placed it on his worst-of list for the year. He was more generous reviewing his 1987 Sign O’ the Times. He wrote:
“Sign O’ the Times” was directed by Prince, and he does a good, sound job without finding an answer to the problem of all directors of rock concert films: After you have exhausted the basic repertory of obvious shots and audience reactions, what do you do then? In “Purple Rain,” Prince found an answer in his own life, and provided intercuts to an autobiographical story. This time, he lets the music simply speak for itself. It’s fun as far as it goes, but “Purple Rain,” of course, went further.
1990’s sequel to Rain and Prince’s last dramatic film, Graffiti Bridge, once again landed the artist in Ebert’s worst-of-the-year list, between Ghost Dad and Robocop 2. “All of the electricity and excitement in the first film was missing,” he said, “and instead we got was a dumb plot about two guys fighting for control of a night club.”
Watch Ebert review Graffiti Bridge (at 2:15).
“Prince was electrifying in Purple Rain,” he continued. “But where did the electricity go in Graffiti Bridge?”
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