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Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Edition

Given the dispiriting creative drought that ravaged every artistic medium in the 1980s, awarding the decade musically to pop-rock-funk alchemist Prince is inescapably dubious and diminishing of a sustained level of brilliance which rivaled the historic runs of The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Dylan. If the best this declaration can accomplish is to remind a public given to lazy and forgiving remembrances of the period that His Royal Badness's contributions to the popular music canon far outstripped those offered up by the self-monikered "King of Pop" Michael Jackson, it's best then to repair the historical record: Prince made the '80s endurable. Still, Prince's most impressive achievement might be that his music has, with a few isolated exceptions, not dated. From "When You Were Mine" off of 1980's Dirty Mind to the one-track mélange of Lovesexy, it's all too inventive, too joyous, and just too damn funky to ever be in danger of losing its vitality. And these are just the marginal, but still notable, bookends. In between these merely great albums, Prince, over the tighter span of four years, dropped three inarguable masterpieces like it was nothing. That he accomplished this while the country was in the grip of a soul-enervating, consumer-driven complacency is all the more astonishing. Sliding these three pieces under the same electron microscope used to distinguish the unreproducible atomic structure of, say, Rubber Soul from Revolver, one finally emerges with the finer assessment that if 1999 is the ultimate party record and Sign o' the Times is the connoisseur's socially conscious choice, then Purple Rain, flawless and majestic at only nine songs, must be the soaring apex of Prince's soul-stirring climb to artistic immortality. The trick to embracing the film as a legitimately essential work in spite of its many flaws is to resist categorizing it as a love story and, rather, view it as an honest, if ugly, confessional for the tortured creative temperament. Though antithetical to their enjoyment, it would be dishonest to think that any great work of artistic transcendence has ever been completed without a journey through one's darkest thoughts and feelings. Psychologically, it's a perilous expedition, with the epiphanies arriving at a horrible, rationally unacceptable human price. Viewing Prince at his worst through his performance as The Kid might be too much for some, but there's something noble in the artist's preference for fearless self-portraiture over shameless self-hagiography. Honesty and genius were in treacherously short supply during the 1980s. Warner presents Purple Rain in an solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with excellent Dolby Digital 5.1. audio. Extras on this two-disc set include a feature-length commentary with Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo, and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin, "First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty" (12 min.), "Purple Rain: Backstage Pass" (30 min.), "Riffs, Ruffles and a Revolution: The Impact and Influence of Purple Rain" (10 min.), the "MTV Premiere Party" (28 min.), and eight music videos. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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