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Undeniable talent rocks in 4K – “Purple Rain” 40th Anniversary”

Updated: Jul 2


Prince prepares to perform at First Avenue, the main venue for pop music in downtown Minneapolis. It featured a large stage and dance floor, with a capacity of between 1,500 and 2,000 patrons.

(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)


4K & Blu-ray (European copies); 1984; R for sexuality, brief nudity, profanity, violence; Digital copy (Amazon Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Fandango Home (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: “First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty” featurette (U.S. release), but a carryover “Behind the Scenes” featurette in the U.K. release is much better.


HOW’S THIS for a Hollywood feature film pitch?


First-time producer; first-time director; mostly non-professional cast; to be shot on location in downtown Minneapolis; in the dead of winter. That, plus a rising rock and roll star named Prince, was exactly how the phenomenon of “Purple Rain” came about – with a little help from Creative Artist co-founder Michael Ovitz and Warner Brothers Studios.


In some ways, “Purple Rain” seems like an extended music video, with its sizzling nightclub performances by Prince, Morris Day, and Apollonia Kotero, and their bands. The plot, such as it is, mimics real life in some ways, drawn from events in Prince’s family as well as his early career.


For example, he got his start at a club called First Avenue, and his band, The Revolution, often competed with Day’s band, The Time. Prince’s father, portrayed by Clarence Williams III (“The Mod Squad” ABC TV series started in the late ‘60s), was also a troubled, abusive dad and husband, and an accomplished musician.


Unsurprisingly, the acting in “Purple Rain” is uneven and often wooden, but there are enough heartfelt performances to keep you watching. When released, it received many good reviews, and did a huge box office. Day is a natural comedian who, with others in his band, provide welcome comic relief to the melodrama. Then there’s the music. The showcasing of Prince’s original songs, composed specifically for the film, made a major splash, propelling him into superstardom, as well as bringing him an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.

(1-4) First Avenue didn’t have to advertise when Prince was scheduled to play there, “The word would just go out.” (5) Wendy Melvoin, guitarist, and Lisa Coleman, keyboards, in The Revolution. (6) Prince takes Apollonia Kotero for a ride on his motorcycle.



Warner’s 4K restoration follows the marvelous blueprint the studio used for last year’s highly praised 30th anniversary of “The Fugitive.” First, the “Purple Rain” 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 theatrical ratio) was scanned in 8K resolution, which is a higher level than the majority of the scanning done by other studios including Warner. Then the restoration work was handled in the 4K domain, removing all visual defects, and adjusting contrast levels and colors in the expansive HDR spectrum. The clarity is first-rate from nicely stylized framing with close-ups and active concert sequences. The saturated colors REALLY pop and the onstage lighting – especially lights pointing toward the camera – are super bright and light up the room.


Natural film grain is tight and controlled, even though the encoding was onto the smaller 66 Gigabit disc. If there’s any misstep in this release it’s that it wasn’t encoded onto the 100 GB disc. The video consistently runs in the mid 50 Megabits per second range and the HDR peak brightness hits 1176 nits and average at 286 nits.



Even though a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack would’ve been a nice addition, the six-channel DTS-HD won’t disappoint. It’s extremely powerful, with pounding bass response. Prince’s vocals are never lost. If you crank it up, you’ll put yourself inside the nightclub. The album “Purple Rain” sold 13 million units in the United States, including 1.5 million in its debut week, earning a Diamond Award from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

(1) Morris Day and Apollonia. (2&3) Prince rides his customized 1981 Honda CM400 Hondamatic. (4&5) Prince and The Revolution perform again at the First Avenue. (6&7) Apollonia and her new group perform at The Taste, a small nightclub.



The 4K disc includes a group commentary by director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo, and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin; as well as eight music videos of songs from the film. Unfortunately, three worthwhile featurettes, which appeared on the 2018 Blu-ray, are omitted from the U.S. 4K set but included in the U.K. release from Warner. One looks behind-the-scenes; another explores the film’s influence on pop culture; and the third shows the original broadcast of MTV’s celebrity-studded “Purple Rain” premiere party.


The featurette about ‘First Avenue,’ “the nightclub where Prince got started,” focuses on the main venue for pop music in downtown Minneapolis. It was where all the performances in “Purple Rain” were filmed. Its popularity was due to its central location, its large stage and dance floor, and its capacity for between 1,500 and 2,000 patrons. Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, former members of The Time, talk about getting hired at 7th Avenue Entry, a smaller club attached to First Avenue. Jam: “It was one of the first places to give us a shot.” Wendy Melvoin, guitarist in The Revolution, says 7th Avenue Entry was “where all the cool bands would play.” First Avenue DJ Mike Bosley notes that many famous groups got their start there, and remembers when Prince would go into the club and sit in the back, watching whoever was on stage.


“Dr. Fink,” another member of The Revolution, explains that First Avenue was originally called Uncle Sam’s in the mid-1970s, and recalls what a great atmosphere it had. He says the cinematic conflicts between Prince and Morris Day reflect the “real competition between them but (unlike the portrayal in the film) it was a playful kind of competition.”


Chris Osgood, of the “Suicide Commandos,” recalls when First Avenue was a discotheque, where “people from all the neighborhoods would come to dance.” First Avenue didn’t have to advertise when Prince was scheduled to play there, he adds, “the word would just go out … Most of the music in the film premiered at the club, in August of 1983, which was also Wendy’s debut in the band.” Osgood lauds the venue for “blending audiences and bringing diverse groups of people together to enjoy the music.”


Alan Leeds, Prince’s former tour manager, calls First Avenue a “legendary rock club, like the Bottom Line in New York, and the Roxy in L.A. … Prince wanted a local forum, where he could do informal, impromptu shows, try out new music and new musicians.” A club promoter named Cowboy adds that “Prince would ask for a new record of his to be played, and then watch people’s reactions. If they started to dance, he knew he had a hit if they didn’t, it was back to the drawing board.


Jimmy Jam: “After ‘Purple Rain,’ First Avenue turned into a sort of tourist club. We always felt a sense of loss … but the club still has the legacy. The music still goes on. There’s always a crowd and new music.”


— Peggy Earle

(1) Clarence Williams III plays Prince’s father, a troubled, abusive dad and husband, and an accomplished musician. (2) Prince is questioned by the authorities after he finds his father with a loaded gun. (3&4) Prince announces to the crowd he will play a song the girls in the band wrote, which he dedicates to his father Purple Rain.


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