Purple Rain is a great example of a flawed masterpiece. Some of its stilted acting and disjointed plot points seem on par with the cringeworthy brilliance of The Room, but the transcendent mad magic comes from both from Prince’s otherworldly musical performances, and his entrancing presence, which is mesmerizingly accentuated by his personal style.
Some of my favorite moments in Purple Rain, besides, of course, the stage performances, are glimpses of The Kid’s personal space. His dressing room and the basement room of his parents’ house are both decorated with lips, sparkles, horses, and clowns. Lots of harlequin-style clowns.
The clowns, especially the masks, are usually featured to amplify emotionally dark times, and are tied to The Kid’s confrontations with his feuding and troubled parents and his desire to connect romantically and artistically with others.
Purple Rain takes place in a bit of a dream state where everything doesn’t have to make sense. It’s almost like when he goes home, he’s living in memories and nightmares. His room is relatable and strange, an intimate glimpse of Prince’s inner world.
We get an even darker, look into sources of Prince’s art when he takes Appolonia to his room. Just as she’s taking in all the clown figurines and harlequin masks, he further overwhelms her sense by turning on the tape desk with his sequined red-manicured hand. The sounds that pour forth are a backwards track of a woman crying (presumably his mother?) Prince’s The Kid claims that it sounds like she’s laughing, but it most definitely not sound that way. What it does sound like is an experiment with sound that highlights Prince’s fiercely innovative spirit.
At one point, an alienated and emotionally wrecked The Kid has a conversation with a puppet, in a voice that reminds me of Bob Belcher’s many conversations with his favorite objects.
The common narrative of the harlequin clown, a 16th Italian ancestor for the likes of Bozo and Krusty, is reflective of the plot of Purple Rain, and of Prince’s character.
The Harlequin’s role is that of a light-hearted, nimble and astute servant, often acting to thwart the plans of his master, and pursuing his own love interest, Colombina, with wit and resourcefulness, often competing with the sterner and melancholic Pierrot.
Prince is The Harlequin in Purple Rain, but he doesn’t go for makeup beyond expertly applied eyeliner. Instead, he’s intent on achieving the perfect masks for every situation. His default mask is one of mischievous mystery. He’s a master of the nymphlike playful smirk, a decadent of Pan and his trickster demeanour. For most of the movie, he wears a smirk like it’s just another item of his costume. He knows every understated nuance of this game, and can change the exaggerated mood of the film with just the look in his eyes.
Here are some cool clown and harlequin decor pieces to mimic Prince’s Purple Rain vibe (photos link to where you can buy them:)
This one’s an art print:
Other stories of interest:
David Bowie’s addiction fueled alienation in The Man Who Fell to Earth
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